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January 1, 2011

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Scientists to study health of children

SHANGHAI scientists will start in 2011 the nation's first large-scale study on the relationship between the environment and children's health.

The scientists will follow 5,000 local couples who plan to start a family. They will track each family before their babies are born and follow the children until adulthood. Scientists will analyze how the environment influences them by studying their blood, DNA, hair and nails while also measuring external factors such as nutrition, stress, nicotine intake, exposure to pesticides, drinking water and indoor air quality.

"We want to study how environmental factors harm a child's nervous and reproduction systems and inner secretions," said Dr Yan Chonghai, the lead scientist in the study. "We have applied to the local health authorities to include the study in the city's new three-year public health construction plan to get government support and funding."

Yan, who works at Xinhua Hospital, said the study could cost more than 100 million yuan (US$15.15 million) and the initial outlay will be at least 20 million yuan to 30 million yuan.

"It is an important research," Yan said. "The spectrum of children's diseases has changed rapidly in the past 30 years from poor nutrition and infections to a huge rise in tumors, congenital deformities and autism."

"Since the genetic reasons don't alter so much within 30 years, the environment could play an extremely important role. The key is to identify the impact and study how to prevent and control them," Yan added.

Yan said scientists want to confirm the effects of pollutants such as formaldehyde on children's leukemia.

"We have always suspected leukemia is partly caused by formaldehyde used in interior decoration materials but we have no solid evidence," Yan said. "If we get evidence then we can suggest the government issue strict rules."

Other factors like stress during pregnancy, the health and education of parents and child raising will also be studied.

The 5,000 families are likely to be chosen in Minhang District. Doctors are also considering families from Baoshan and Yangpu districts, according to Yan.

"If it goes well, we want to broaden the project and include 100,000 to 200,000 families in different regions in the nation," Yan added.


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