Budget and management problems have wracked the National Children's Study, once the most ambitious effort to document the effects of many factors -- including environmental ones -- on children's health during the entire time they are growing up.
"Trisha Massmann got a jolt when she received a letter informing her of imminent changes to the US National Children's Study (NCS). She had enthusiastically signed up to the project as an expectant mother in the summer of 2009, after one of its recruiters knocked on the door of her blue clapboard house in the farming community of Granite Falls, Minnesota, population 2,881. By the time Massmann's son, Brett, was born the following February, two fieldworkers from the NCS -- a hugely ambitious effort to track environmental and biological influences on the health of 100,000 US children from before birth to age 21 -- had spent hours in her home collecting, among other things, dust, air, water and toenail clippings from the parents to be. The same researchers would continue to visit and monitor Brett at regular intervals, becoming a fixture in the family's life.
But in the background, the study has been wracked with budget and management problems and has become a headache for its overseers at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. In March this year, the disharmony rippled out to Granite Falls, where Massmann's letter informed her that starting in July, the study's activities, including family contacts, would be taken over 'for an undetermined period of time' by a research-consulting firm based in North Carolina.
Massmann immediately sent a text message to Kari Loft, one of the NCS fieldworkers she had grown to know and consider a friend, saying, 'I'm not cool with this.' Recalling the episode during a visit from Loft this month, Massmann said that before joining the study, she had received assurances that the same fieldworkers would be with her long-term. 'That was really important to me. Because they have built up a relationship with my kid.' Now, she says, 'I don't know if I even want to do it'."