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The largest human health study is on children

Meet the National Children’s Study, supposedly the largest human health study ever. Its goal is “to improve the health and well-being of children.” However, before they can do this, the researchers involved need to collect data. They will do this by tracking 100,000 children from all over the United States from before birth till the age of 21 and examine the effects of environmental influences on their health and development. By “environment”, the researchers mean

  • natural and man-made environmental factors
  • biological and chemical factors
  • physical surroundings
  • social factors
  • behavioral influences and outcomes
  • genetics
  • cultural and family influences and differences
  • geographic locations

The study will be conducted by researches in several centers across the US and will cost millions of dollars in funding. So far, pilot studies have been conducted and study centers chosen. The full study is scheduled to begin in 2010.

Now, before they can conduct such a study, they need study participants, specifically families from 105 chosen locations all over the country.

But if I were living in the US, am I (and my family) willing to volunteer and participate? My science background urges me to say “yes.” No doubt about it, the aim of the study is noble and I completely agree that we can learn a lot from the data that will be generated. Wouldn’t it be great if I and my family can help in finding the cure to childhood problems such as autism, asthma, SIDS, ADHS, and obesity?

The private individual in me however hesitates. Imagine being under scrutiny for 21 plus years, with all the family going ons recorded and archived. Imagine having my son’s complete life history documented and digitized, be it his first tooth, his shampoo (chemical environment!), his friends (social factors!), and his school records. How safe would his data be? Can they be used against him later in life?

So what’s your take on this issue?

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