Researchers from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and Penn Medicine have been awarded a $50M grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study environmental influences on pregnancy and children’s health, as part of the NIH’s Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program.

Heather Burris, MD, MPH, a neonatologist at CHOP commented: “We are thrilled to have been chosen as an ECHO Cohort Study Site and for the opportunity to contribute to this important project, which will improve our understanding of the ways the local environment affects our children’s health. We know that communities are not equally exposed to environmental toxicants, and we also know that health inequities and disparities are an ongoing public health problem. This project will help us shed light on the extent to which the health inequities we see in our patient population are related to neighborhood environmental exposures.”

Historical data reveals that Black infants are twice as likely to die compared to white infants, primarily due to adverse pregnancy outcomes such as preterm birth. Although efforts have been made to prevent preterm birth and enhance child health, disparities remain.

The research plan involves recruiting up to 2,500 pregnant individuals, partners, and offspring over three years into the ECHO Cohort, seeking to explore questions about the impact of early environmental exposures on a large, diverse scale.

Sunni L. Mumford, PhD, co-director of the Women’s Health Clinical Research Center and deputy director of Epidemiology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, emphasized the significance of including underrepresented populations in the study, stating: “At Penn and CHOP, we serve a diverse population including a group of patients who are underrepresented in other pregnancy and pediatric cohorts in the United States: patients who are Black and insured by Medicaid. It is so important to understand how environmental toxicants and beneficial exposures shape the health of Philadelphia’s children. By contributing to the national ECHO Cohort, our research will benefit not only our institutional and neighborhood communities but also communities across the country.”

During the seven-year grant period, researchers will evaluate the impact of “macroenvironmental” factors related to the neighborhood environment, such as greenspace, walkability, pollution, neighborhood violence, and extreme temperatures, on maternal-child health. Furthermore, they plan to identify beneficial “microenvironmental” factors, such as an individual’s diet, physical activity, and sleep during pregnancy, to discern their potential impact on reducing disparities in child health outcomes.

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