Early Life Stress and the Environmental Origins of Disease: A Population-based Prospective Longitudinal Study of Children in Rural Poverty

Duration: 2016 - Present
Funding: National Institutes of Health / National Institute on Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)
Principal Investigator: Lisa Gatzke-Kopp
Principal Investigator: Clancy Blair
Principal Investigator: Leo Trasande
Principal Investigator: Margaret Swingler
Partners: University of North Carolina; New York University; University of California, Irvine

Project ECHO logo

Description

This study investigates the effects of early stress and how relationships and the quality of later environments may increase or buffer the effects of early adversity. Investigators are focusing on associations between early life stress and neurodevelopment in areas of executive functioning, emotion regulation, attention control, readiness for school, and school progress during the elementary years.

In 2002, the Family Life Project (FLP) recruited 1,292 families living in Pennsylvania or North Carolina at the time of their child’s birth in 2003.  FLP oversampled children living in poverty to understand the effects of adversity on development. Having followed these families prospectively throughout their child’s life, this study is one of the cohorts contributing to the National Institutes of Health's Environmental influences on Childhood Health Outcomes (ECHO) initiative.

In this current phase of the FLP study, children are being seen at ages 16 and 18, and the study will collect biological and behavioral data to expand our understanding of how effects of early stress on health outcomes later in life in areas such as neurodevelopment, chronic illness, and obesity. Children and caregivers will complete online questionnaires reporting about their health, sleep habits, substance use, social connections, and professional aspirations.  In conjunction with the ECHO-wide protocol, participants are also asked to provide blood, saliva, urine, and toenails for the analysis of genetic material, cortisol (an indicator of stress), and other environmental exposures.

These newly collected data, along with previously collected data, are added to the de-identified ECHO-wide analysis dataset. ECHO is an initiative through the Office of the Director at NIH to study the Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes.  This initiative established a consortium of over 30 longitudinal studies nationwide spanning different stages of development.  By harmonizing data and standardizing data collection across the consortium, we will have a database of over 60,000 children.  ECHO’s four health outcome domains of interest are airways, obesity, neurodevelopment, and positive Health.

The ECHO-wide consortium will be able to address questions beyond what any individual study could achieve on its own.  Scientists will be able to examine mechanisms of lower-incidence adverse exposures and outcomes and will have the ability to determine whether factors such as race/ethnicity, sex, or geographic location have important influences on target outcomes.

Project Team

Publications

Magnitude and chronicity of smoke exposure across infancy and early childhood in a sample of low-income children

Gatzke-Kopp, L. M., Willoughby, M. T., Warkentien, S. M., O’Connor, T., Granger, D., & Blair, C. (2019). Magnitude and chronicity of smoke exposure across infancy and early childhood in a sample of low-income children. Nicotine and Tobacco Research, 21, 1665-1672. https://doi.org/10.1093/ntr/nty228

Predictors of developmental patterns of obesity in young children

O’Connor, T., Williams, J., Blair, C., Kopp, L., Francis, L., & Willoughby, M. (2020). Predictors of developmental patterns of obesity in young children. Frontiers Pediatrics, 8(109). https://doi.org/10.3389/fped.2020.00109

Association between environmental tobacco smoke exposure across the first four years of life and manifestation of externalizing behavior problems in school‐aged children

Gatzke-Kopp, L., Willoughby, M. T., Warkentien, S., Petrie, D., Mills-Koonce, R., & Blair, C. (2019). Association between environmental tobacco smoke exposure across the first four years of life and manifestation of externalizing behavior problems in school-aged children. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (e-pub ahead of publication)