School of Public Health receives $95M grant to study environmental influences on child health

The National Institutes of Health today announced that the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, along with the research firm RTI International, will receive a seven-year, $95 million grant to analyze the data from a new initiative designed to understand how the environment influences health beginning in the womb.

The Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes, or ECHO, program, will examine data from more than 50,000 children from across the United States and initially focus on four areas:

  • Obesity
  • Airway conditions such as asthma and allergies
  • Neurodevelopment, including diseases such as autism
  • Prenatal and postnatal outcomes, such as birth defects

The Bloomberg School will lead the data analysis for ECHO while RTI leads the data management.

"Everything around us may affect the health of children," says Lisa Jacobson, a professor of epidemiology at the Bloomberg School who will lead the center. "By understanding the impact of environmental exposures that occur during pregnancy through early childhood as well as how they interact with societal factors, behavior and genetics, we can better understand what factors promote a healthy childhood and adolescence."

Experiences during sensitive developmental windows—including around the time of conception, later in pregnancy, and during infancy and early childhood—can have long-lasting effects on the health of children. These experiences encompass a broad range of exposures, from air pollution and chemicals in our neighborhoods, to societal factors such as stress, to individual behaviors like sleep and diet.

The grant comes less than a week after the announcement of a $300 million gift to the Bloomberg School from businessman and former three-term mayor of New York City Michael R. Bloomberg's Bloomberg Philanthropies. The gift will fund the Bloomberg American Health Initiative, designed to help set the nation's domestic public health agenda and focusing on five areas: addiction and overdose, risks to adolescent health, environmental challenges, obesity and the food system, and violence.

"This new grant from the National Institutes of Health dovetails perfectly with the work we are doing to develop innovative solutions to the health threats facing the United States in the 21st century," says Michael J. Klag, dean of the Bloomberg School. "We are proud to be able to use our expertise in using data-driven approaches to analyzing large public health problems to help investigate how exposure to a range of environmental factors in early development influences the health of children and adolescents."