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Focus on Health: Lamar County Among First In Children's Health Study

By BJ Austin, KERA News

Dallas, TX – Some 20 years from now, we may have a much better understanding of childhood illnesses thanks to children in Lamar County along the Red River.  KERA's BJ Austin says many of the residents are excited about being chosen for a lead role in the National Children's Study.

Seven year old Josiah Rogers wields a pair of scissors and fidgets -- waiting for a countdown to cut the ribbon on the new National Children's Study office. It's on the north campus of the Paris Regional Medical Center. At the big moment, Josiah says "cheese" for the cameras, and snips the 12-foot-long red ribbon.

The National Children's Study will track participants from before birth to age 21. Researchers will look for the root causes of childhood asthma, autism, diabetes, obesity, and other illnesses. The cause may be genetic, environmental, social, or cultural.

Josiah is too old to participate, but his Mom, 26-year-old Rhonda Rogers, says a future baby brother or sister could. Rhonda wants her second child to be part of the ambitious National Institutes of Health study.

Rogers: Just to be able to know that it will help out generations to come. I just see it as a good thing, not only is it going to help my baby, but other children.

UT Southwestern Medical Center, UT School of Public Health and UT Health Science Center in Tyler are part of the North Texas Children's Study Coalition. Dr. Debra Cherry will direct the study in Lamar County.

Debra Cherry: We'll be collecting blood, urine and cord blood at the time of delivery. The data collection is most intense during pregnancy and early in the infant's life. So during pregnancy, there are several data collection points: during the first year of life, 4 or 5 during the first year. Then, thereafter, it slows down quite a bit where it's just a questionnaire maybe every couple of years.

Dr. Cherry says the study will also look at how a child's environment affects health. Researchers will analyze samples of house dust, tap water and air in the home.

She says Lamar County was selected for its rural life and small towns.

Livestock, pastures and farm land line the two major highways that link a dozen small towns to Paris, the county seat. It's home to about 26 thousand people, half the county's population. Most lifestyles are modest. The median income is 37 thousand dollars, about ten thousand below the state figure. The Campbell's Soup plant and Paris Regional Medical Center are the two largest Lamar County employers.

The top health concerns of Lamar County residents, according to a recent Texas State Health Services survey, include smoking by teenagers, poor eating habits and obesity.

Lifelong Lamar County resident Marva Joe is on the Community Advisory Committee for the study.

Marva Joe: We could use the study here because our kids need all the help they can get, especially diabetes because I served at the high school and during the last three to four years the number of kids with diabetes has been on the rise. Diabetes and obesity.

OB-GYN: Dr. David Carpenter and six fellow obstetricians deliver the 12 to 15 hundred babies born each year in Lamar County. They're urging their patients to enroll.

Dr. David Carpenter: All of us want to know the factors that lead to childhood developmental issues. We are seeing an epidemic of autism and diagnosis of attention deficit disorder. All these things could have root in environmental factors, nutritional factors, birth factors. Yet there's not been any study to my knowledge that has any power to shed light on the etiology of these various factors. I really think this study has the potential to be one of the great studies of all time in children's health.

Even though the study will last some 25 years, significant findings or trends will be reported as they're discovered.

The study intends to enroll one thousand babies in Lamar County: 100 thousand nationwide. Women, ages 18 to 49, who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant over the next five years can participate if they meet the ethnic, cultural, and economic criteria. Lamar County's budget for the study is 15 million dollars. Participants will be paid - up to 100 dollars in Wal-Mart gift cards for each visit.

Lamar County is in the vanguard group -- three dozen U.S. counties kicking off the study. Rhonda Rogers thinks it's great that she and her neighbors will take a lead role in how the study is conducted nationwide.

Rhonda Rogers: I'm very excited about it that we were selected. The fact that it's here in Paris, little Paris, I think it's going to be able to show people how great our community is. You know, I'm just excited for Lamar County.

Email BJ Austin

National Children's Study

Lamar County National Children's Study

National Institutes of Health: Lamar County