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FRC to disseminate research results from center investigating chemical exposure and high-fat diet risks for young children

9/23/2013  8:00 am

University of Illinois Family Resiliency Center faculty are part of a new $8 million research center investigating how certain plastics found in common household items may affect the development and functioning of the endocrine system in infants and young children. The Illinois Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Center also explores how the chemical compounds interact with diets high in saturated fat.

The plastics—bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, triclosan, and parabens—are used in some food and drink containers, toys, antibacterial soaps, sunscreens, toothpaste, and cosmetics, among other items. They are considered endocrine disruptors, mimicking and possibly interfering with hormone-mediated development of the brain and reproductive functions.

Researchers at the U of I Beckman Institute and Harvard Medical School are conducting two human studies to measure exposure to the compounds in pregnant women, infants, and adolescents. The human study at U of I is called the Illinois Kids Development Study (I-KIDS), which follows pregnant women and their babies, measuring the levels of the compounds of interest in maternal urine during pregnancy and collecting data on possible sources of exposure.

During the initial phase of the study, 157 mother-infant pairs were enrolled in I-KIDS. Over the next five years the center expects to recruit an additional 500 mothers and their infants with the continued partnership of Carle Physicians Group as well as a new partnership with Christie Clinic. Researchers are expanding the I-KIDS study to include information about maternal weight and maternal and infant diet.

"There is evidence that BPA is an obesogen," said Susan Schantz, U of I Beckman Institute and College of Veterinary Medicine professor and center director, "and some studies have suggested that maternal obesity negatively affects child cognition."

The other human study involves a group of adolescents who have been followed since birth by Susan Korrick, M.D., of Harvard Medical School. Their exposure to the compounds of interest is being measured through urine samples collected during the adolescent period.

In addition, U of I faculty Janice Juraska (psychology) and Jodi Flaws (comparative biosciences) are leading two animal studies focused on the prenatal and adolescent periods that complement the human studies. The initial rodent studies evaluated only BPA, but over the next five years phthalates will be included.

FRC’s role in the center is to explain and disseminate the research results to childcare and healthcare providers and parents. Led by Pampered Chef Endowed Chair Barbara Fiese, the FRC team will create web-based and mobile materials explaining risks associated with chemical exposure and high-fat diets. Print and multi-media materials will be distributed through the Just In Time Parenting web site, which is known for bringing quality, research-based information to families at the time it can be most useful and make the biggest difference in their lives. FRC Professor Aaron Ebata is one of the creators of Just In Time Parenting.

      The FRC team will also host two conferences in Illinois for childcare and healthcare providers, equipping them with timely information they can share with pregnant women and parents of young children.

“The Family Resiliency Center is eager to work with the I-KIDS research team as they advance the science of chemical exposure and high fat diet risks on the developing child,” said Fiese. “By building on our existing partnerships with Illinois Action for Children, Champaign-Urbana Public Health, and Just in Time Parenting, we’re confident that the information we disseminate will be useful and accessible for parents of young children. Dr. Ebata’s perspective will also be invaluable.”

Other center faculty investigators include: Michigan State University researcher Joseph Gardiner, and U of I faculty Andrea Agular, Renee Baillargeon, CheMyong Ko, Sidonie N. Lavergne, and Yuan-Xiang Pan.