Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

NIH ends longitudinal children’s study

Budget and management problems sink plan to follow 100,000 children from birth to adulthood.

The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has cancelled its plan for an ambitious, multi-decade study of environmental influences on children's health, agency director Francis Collins announced on 12 December.

Europe proposes joint Moon trips with Russia Microsoft billionaire takes on cell biology Watson's Nobel medal sells for US$4.1 million

The National Children's Study (NCS), commissioned by the US Congress in 2000, was to assess how physical, chemical, biological and psychosocial factors affected 100,000 children from birth to age 21. The NIH has spent US$1.2 billion on the effort and enrolled roughly 5,700 children in a pilot study at 40 centres around the United States. But a combination of scientific disagreements and mismanagement has delayed the study's official start.

Speaking at an NIH advisory committee meeting, Collins likened the study to “a Christmas tree with every possible ornament placed upon it”. He says that the NIH will find alternative ways to study child development and environmental influences on health.

Collins put the study on hold in June, after the US Instiute of Medicine released a report that found multiple problems with the NCS structure and budget. On 12 December, an NIH working group recommended that the study be dissolved, a suggestion that Collins and his advisory council accepted.

All kinds of noble efforts were made to try to put this study into a credible space,” Collins told Nature. He maintains that the study is “not being killed” but will take a different form.

Still, the NIH plans to shut down the 40 centres it opened for the pilot study, and to stop collecting data for the children already enrolled in that research.

The working group that evaluated the NCS says that samples from the centres should be stored for future analysis. But that may be difficult, warns Marie Lynn Miranda, an environmental health expert at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Miranda, a member of the NIH working group that evaluated the NCS, says that the study lacked a standard method for recruiting families and other crucial steps, so the existing data could be hard to analyse.

Nigel Paneth, an epidemiologist at Michigan State University in Lansing, says that it is not clear whether the NIH can win financial support from Congress for another large, longitudinal study. But he argues that addressing the same questions as the NCS, in some other form, would be worth it. 

 “It’s important to remember that we still have the problems that the Children’s Study was trying to deal with,” he says — such as birth defects and early childhood diseases that can only be studied with a very large sample size. “That way hasn’t worked, so now we have to say what will work. “

Authors

Related links

Related links

Related links in Nature Research

US child study hits buffers 2014-Jun-17

Child-study turmoil leaves bitter taste 2012-May-16

Growing pains for children's study 2012-Feb-22

Q&A: US children's study revisits its strategy

Adviser to National Children's Study quits

Second adviser to National Children's Study resigns

Related external links

National Children's Study

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Reardon, S. NIH ends longitudinal children’s study. Nature (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature.2014.16556

Download citation

  • Published:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/nature.2014.16556

Further reading

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing