US Congress should boost funding for an important study to identify the risk factors for childhood chronic disease, states an editorial in this week’s issue of The Lancet.
Environmental factors have a crucial role in determining the health of the world’s 2·3 billion children. But exactly which risk factors contribute to childhood chronic disease is often unknown. The National Children’s Study aims to track the health of 100,000 children across the USA from birth to their 21st birthday. The study will look at the environmental - including physical, chemical, biological, and psycho-social - influences on children’s health and development. The researchers estimate that they will need US$2·7 billion over 25 years, but they have hit problems securing the necessary funds. The study has already been delayed by a year. For the 2005 fiscal year US Congress appropriated less than half the $27 million the researchers were counting on, and for the fiscal year 2006 President Bush has requested that Congress appropriate only $12 million - far less that the study needs to stay on track.
The Lancet comments: “American children are more likely than ever to develop chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, asthma, and behavioural disorders. According to one estimate, the annual disease burden from the ten most common health problems that afflict children is around $400 billion a year in the USA alone. From a purely economic point of view, therefore, the National Children’s Study could pay for itself many times over if it reduces this burden by as little as 1% a year . . . US Congress needs to have the long-term vision to leave a legacy to help future generations of children, not just in the USA but throughout the world.”