Lifelong Impact: Why the United States Needs a National Birth Cohort Study

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About the Series

The well-being of our nation’s children has great impacts on our nation’s ability to thrive.

We know that the well-being of adults has roots in early life. In order to increase our understanding of these processes, we need to study how our nation’s children learn and develop across the lifecourse from before they are born until adulthood. There is a consensus among many leading US scientists that a nationally representative birth cohort study that begins in pregnancy has unique value for major advancements in our understanding of how children in this nation grow into healthy, successful, and happy adults. And this perspective was voiced in the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine’s 2014 review of the National Children’s Study.

Efforts currently under way are not nationally representative or sufficiently comprehensive in their focus, particularly with respect to assessing the environment across the lifecourse. We now live in a time where the current technologies allow for collection of information in a manner that is cost effective, less burdensome to study participants, and secure. We can also process information more quickly and securely, allowing society to more immediately reap the benefits of this research. Allowing us to learn how all aspects of the environment work together to impact lifelong health and well-being has the potential to inform and transform evidence-based policies and practices to improve the prosperity of the nation.

In this two-part NAM Perspectives series, 17 experts discuss the reasons why a national birth cohort study is important for the future of health in the United States and how such a study could be designed in a way that is multidisciplinary, focuses on the main drivers of health, engages communities, employs a diverse set of data sources, and includes innovative techniques in data analysis.


With funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the National Academy of Medicine and Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education held two expert meetings to identify a set of activities to design a longitudinal birth cohort study across the life course. These meetings drew on The National Children’s Study 2014: An Assessment, which was a joint project of the Committee on National Statistics and the Board on Children, Youth, and Families. In addition to engaging a diverse array of stakeholders from academia, philanthropy, local communities, industry, and government, the meetings included discussions on how to design a national longitudinal cohort study that is multidisciplinary, focuses on the main drivers of health, engages communities, employs a diverse set of data sources, and includes innovative techniques in data analysis. The discussions included how to use the findings from such a study to improve and direct resources toward improvements in the drivers of health. This NAM Perspectives series and accompanying video reflects those discussions. The goal is to provide input into, and catalyze action for improvements in the design of future longitudinal birth cohort studies.

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                                    Download Paper 1 Download Paper 2 Download the Author List

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NCS web   International

Report: The National Children’s Study 2014: An Assessment

Additional Resources from the 2014 NRC/IOM Report


U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health





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The authors of these papers would like to thank the many people and organizations that contributed to the preparation of these papers. The papers were enriched with the input they each provided at key points in the process of developing the paper series.

The authors thank the following people for making presentations and engaging in discussions at our expert meetings: Gregory Acs, Urban Institute; David Balshaw, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences; Symma Finn, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences; Adam Gamoran, William T. Grant Foundation; Kimberly Gray, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences; Cindy Guy, Annie E. Casey Foundation; Kristen Moore, Child Trends; Uma Reddy, Eunice Kennedy Schriver National Institute of Child Health and Development; Vanessa Sacks, Child Trends;  Isabelle Sawhill, Brookings Institution; Tara Schwetz, National Institutes of Health; and Alice Warner-Mehlhorn, W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

The authors were also assisted by an able staff: Charlee Alexander, who drafted and edited sections of the papers; Allison Berger, who made all arrangements and managed logistics for the panel;  Kimber Bogard, who directed the project and provided oversight in the planning, writing, and editing of the series; Elizabeth Boyle, who facilitated author activities and guided the completion of these papers; Kyra Cappelucci, who provided communications expertise and created the dissemination plan for the series; Connie Citro, who provided insights as the authors were deliberating on the papers; Laura DeStefano, who provided communications expertise, edited the drafts, and provided copyediting; Lauren Tobias, a consultant to the project, who drafted key messages and provided messaging insight to the authors as the papers were drafted.

Finally, we recognize the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, without which the work would not have been possible.


The views expressed in this series of Perspectives are those of the authors and not necessarily of the authors’ organizations or of the National Academy of Medicine (NAM). These Perspectives are intended to help inform and stimulate discussion. They have not been subjected to the review procedures of, nor are they reports of, the NAM or the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Copyright by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

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