By Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, M.D.
Today I’m delighted to share some exciting news. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is launching recruitment for the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study. This is the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the United States. NIMHD is one of eight NIH institutes, centers, and offices along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) supporting this landmark study.
Adolescence, the transitional stage between childhood and adulthood, is an important period in human development. While major physical and psychological changes are happening, teenagers are testing their independence and exploring their self-identity. All the while, the brain is undergoing dramatic changes in structure and function.
For the ABCD Study, researchers will follow the biological and behavioral development of more than 10,000 children ages 9-10 through adolescence into early adulthood. It is critically important that the participants in this study reflect the U.S. population, as almost half of all children are now from a minority racial or ethnic group. In addition, the study will strive to recruit children from different levels of socioeconomic status and living environments. To accomplish this goal, recruitment will be done through partnerships with public and private schools near 19 research sites in the continental U.S. and Hawaii, as well as through registries of identical and fraternal twins.
Over the next decade, leading researchers in the fields of child development and neuroscience will use extensive baseline interviews, psychological and behavioral testing, and cutting-edge technology in brain imaging, to determine how childhood experiences interact with a child’s changing biology to affect brain development and—ultimately—social, behavioral, academic, and other health outcomes. Experiences such as playing video games, participating in extracurricular activities like organized sports, insufficient sleep or poor sleep habits, cigarette smoking, other use of tobacco products, and drinking alcohol. For example, we know that adequate hours of sleep is essential for normal growth and brain development, yet studies show that children from minority and economically underserved communities are more likely to experience shorter sleep times compared to their White and economically advantaged counterparts. As a result, these children are disproportionately affected by the adverse health and quality of life consequences of poor sleep.
When it comes to physical activity, the overall lifelong health benefits are clear. Yet children who participate in certain sports and recreational activities are exposed to various injury risks. The CDC estimates that 1.6 to 3.8 million concussions occur in sports and recreational activities annually. Understanding the relationships among these experiences and their effects on the growing brain will provide answers that can inform educational practices and policy and, ultimately, may help improve the health and well-being of our youth.
At NIMHD, our mission is to lead scientific research to improve minority health and reduce health disparities. We know that increased diversity in participants of clinical research studies is both a crucial part of achieving health equity and an essential component to advance scientific knowledge. For example, we cannot know if a treatment will be effective for certain race/ethnic minority groups if they are not part of clinical research. Greater diversity allows researchers to identify differences between populations and formulate appropriate treatments and contributes to understanding the interactions of individual behavior and biology with the social and physical environment. Diverse representation among study participants in the ABCD study will help us gain a better understanding of development across all groups and ensures that the study results are relevant for all children.
You can learn more about the ABCD Study at www.ABCDStudy.org. Help us spread the word about this important study so diverse communities will not only be represented, but can share in, and benefit from, the medical advances gained from this critical research.