This information is desperately needed.The end of the National Children’s Study was frustrating and troublesome to those who are anxious for data to help elucidate the state of children’s health and possible causes for the epidemic of neurological and developmental disorders. Hopefully the Brits can sidestep the influences of those with a vested interested in the public not knowing these numbers.

Wanted: 80,000 British babies for massive study

An ambitious study that will follow 80,000 children from cradle to grave has launched in the United Kingdom, two months after a similar project in the United States ended in expensive failure.

The project aims to track a generation of twenty-first-century babies and work out which factors in their early lives are important in shaping their health and wealth as they grow into adults. There are reasons to hope that the Life Study will have a happier ending than its US counterpart, the National Children’s Study.

Such ‘birth-cohort’ studies are prized. Scientists have used them to extract a stream of associations — for example, deducing that smoking during pregnancy is linked to poor child development, and that children born at socio-economic disadvantage are more likely to struggle at school.

Researchers argue that new birth cohorts are needed. Children born today, at least in most Western countries, enter a world that is increasingly warmer, more digitized, more ethnically diverse and more obese, with wider income inequality, than it was even a decade ago. New questions and techniques, such as sophisticated genetic analyses, also arise as time goes on, allowing different information to be gleaned.

The National Children’s Study aimed to follow 100,000 children from birth to age 21, but was cancelled in December 2014 before it fully launched, 15 years and US$1.2 billion after its inception (see Nature; 2014). Scientists had started to recruit parents and children, but the study struggled to find a clear scientific direction, had trouble enrolling participants and racked up eye-watering costs.

Nature 518, 463–464 (26 February 2015) doi:10.1038/518463a