Turning great ideas into healthier communities


Child Health and Development Studies

Child Health and Development Studies (CHDS) investigates how health and disease are passed on between generations--not only genetically, but also through social, personal and environmental surroundings. Nearly 50 years ago, CHDS enrolled over 15,000 families during the mothers' early pregnancy. Families participated in comprehensive interviews about their health, lifestyle and experiences. Follow-up studies CHDS children, now adults, and on their children, enable CHDS scientists to study health across generations and seek ways to prevent disease early in life.

Program Director(s)

Barbara Cohn

Program Site



A Lifecourse Approach to Emerging Health Disparities in a U.S. Cohort

This study, sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and Development, is a new collaboration between CHDS investigators and Columbia University. The focus of this project is to understand how and when racial and socioeconomic disparities in health emerge over the life course. It will provide critical information for understanding why disparities exist and how they might be addressed.

Chemical Safety During Breast Cancer Susceptibility Windows

Child Health and Development Studies (CHDS) will design an environmental chemical safety testing strategy to discover the chemical pathways that might trigger breast cancer. CHDS believes that chemical testing may be effective at identifying dangerous exposures in human populations. It is unlikely that there is a single chemical pathway to breast cancer. The pathways are likely to depend on type and level of exposures, and when they occur, including during windows of susceptibility (such as the prenatal period, post-puberty adolescence, time at first birth, and menopause). With data from three generations of women, CHDS will 1) identify pathways to breast cancer during two windows of susceptibility; 2) identify different pathways in vulnerable populations (such as ethnic minorities); and 3) identify the role of environmental chemical exposures within these pathways.

Early Determinants of Adult Health

This collaborative project between Child Health and Development Studies (CHDS) investigators and Columbia University, Harvard University, the University of California, Davis, and the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research examines how prenatal and childhood factors influence the risk for diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer and brain function in adulthood. This project launched a new era of research at the CHDS focused on adult health of CHDS "children."

Early Determinants of Mammographic Density

The purpose of this study by the Child Health and Development Studies, Kaiser Permanente and Columbia University is to learn more about the effects of the prenatal period and early childhood on women's adult health, particularly the health of their breasts. It examines whether mammographic density (which may be linked to later risk of breast cancer) is related to prenatal or early childhood factors.

Environmental Causes of Breast Cancer Across Generations

This study tests the idea that prenatal exposure to environmental chemicals increases the risk of breast cancer. Many of these compounds are known to affect fertility, birth outcomes and immune function and are thus suspected causes of or contributors to breast cancer. However, no human study has been able to measure exposure in the womb, a time of vulnerability for the developing fetus.

Fetal Exposure to Maternal Stress and Inflammation: Effects on Neurodevelopment

PHI serves as a subcontractor to Temple University's National Institutes of Health award for Fetal Exposure to Maternal Stress and Inflammation: Effects on Neurodevelopment. The scope of work includes identifying available serum samples, assisting investigators with correspondence and approvals, batching the serum, receiving results and appending them to the data files for the project.

Grandparental Exposures and Risk of Autism in the Third Generation

The Child Health and Development Studies Group (CHDS) will test the hypothesis that grandparental exposures during peri-conception and pregnancy predict increased risk of autism in the grandchildren byL

  1. Identifying cases of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and unaffected controls in the CHDS grandchildren
  2. Identifying relationships between peri-conceptual risk factors in both grandmothers and grandfathers to autism in their grandchildren

Identification of Spectrum Neurodevelopmental Sequelae in CHDS Cohort

In this pilot study, CHDS will identify cases of spectrum of neurodevelopmental sequelae including ADD, ADHD, learning disabilities, sensory processing disorders, mental illness, emotional disturbance, social cognitive deficits not rising to the level of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and more, in addition to ASD in the CHDS cohort grandchildren. 

In Utero Organochlorine Exposure and Breast Density

Tests the hypothesis that in utero exposure to organochlorine compounds alters breast density in women measured at 40-44 years of age. High breast density is associated with increased risk of breast cancer.

Maintenance of Child Health and Development Studies Name and Address Files

The project's general aims are: 1) to maintain the accuracy of the Child Health and Development Studies (CHDS) files for name and addresses, mortality and occurrences of malignancies; 2) to manage the CHDS serum collection; and 3) to facilitate the biomedical and psychosocial studies through dissemination of data to qualified researchers without violating participant confidentiality.

Neurodevelopmental Health of Grandchildren of CHDS Cohort Women

This grant is to support the CHDS study of neurodevelopmental health of grandchildren of CHDS cohort women.

Prenatal Determinants of Schizophrenia, II

This study investigates the role of prenatal determinants of schizophrenia and schizophrenia spectrum disorder.The study builds on and extends two prior investigations: the original Child Health and Development Study and the Prenatal Determinants of Schizophrenia Study, This project is a collaboration with Kaiser Foundation Research Institute.

Prenatal Exposure to Environmental DDT and Risk of Metabolic Syndrome

In partnership with the University of California, Davis, PHI will compile and send de-identified epidemiology data, send serum samples to the Cal-EPA laboratory for organochlorine chemical analysis, complete organochloine chemical assays under the CAL-EPA director's supervision, record and de-identify assay results and append these to an analysis file, locate and send samples to the Clinical & Epidemiologic Research Laboratory at Children’s Hospital Boston for HbA1C and lipid assays, record and de-identify assay results and append these to the analysis file, provide epidemiologic methods and statistical consulting, and assist with analysis interpretation and manuscript preparation.

Prenatal Factors and Risk of Bipolar Disorder

This study examines the relationship between early developmental insults and risk of adult bipolar affective disorder. Investigators aim to better understand early developmental risk factors for bipolar disorder, and assess whether these factors are specific to schizophrenia. This project is a collaboration with the Research Foundation for Mental Hygiene.

Prenatal Organochlorine Exposure and Male Reproduction (Study of the Environment and Reproduction)

This is a joint project between the Child Health and Development Studies, Kaiser Permanente and Columbia University. It examines the effects of prenatal exposure to pesticides and men's fertility. Prenatal exposure to pesticides could occur if a man's mother was exposed to pesticides before or during her pregnancy. Some pesticides are stored for long periods in body tissues and might affect the developing reproductive system of a fetus.

Prenatal Organochlorine Metabolites, Thyroid Function and Development

This study is to assess whether exposure to metabolites of endocrine disrupting compounds during pregnancy is associated with 1) adverse development in the offspring at birth, childhood and adolescence and 2) mild deficiencies in the maternal thyroid function, as well as whether adverse developmental findings, if any, are attributed in part to deficiencies in exposure to maternal thyroid hormone in utero. This project is a collaboration with Columbia University.

Rethink Plastic

Child Health and Development Studies will test an intervention to reduce the impact of environmental estrogens on breast cancer by reducing use of plastics.  It is anticipated that the scientific evidence linking environmental estrogens to breast cancer is strong enough to act.

Plastics were chosen because they are common sources of environmental estrogens. As a Community Research Collaboration pilot study CHDS researchers will be joined two community partners: the Participant Advisory Council (PAC) of the CHDS and the Plastics Pollution Coalition (PPC).

Stress, Resilience and Aging Processes

The CHDS is the longitudinal study from which the CHDS Health Disparities Study participants were recruited. Dr. Cohn and her research team are partnering with Dr. Suglia and Shelton, the PIs of the current study and their team, to develop measures relevant to the project goals from the large sets of variables available in the archival data, participate in calls monitoring study progress, and conceptualize and prepare key papers to achieve the specific aims of the grant in collaboration with the Columbia team.

To support the Natural Progression of Celiac Disease Within a Multi-Generational Cohort Study

To provide information about the consequences of untreated celiac disease, increase awareness of the disease and potentially provide evidence of the importance of screening children and young adults, reducing the disease’s impact on multiple generations.

Here's How We're Making a Difference

Developing Best Practices in Sharing Study Findings with Participants

PHI’s Child Health and Development Studies is not only advancing groundbreaking research on how environment influences health, but they’re also developing and testing best practices for reporting this information back to study participants. CHDS is testing the blood levels of 150 African-American and 150 non-African-American women for chemicals like pesticides and flame retardants. The findings—for individuals and of the group as a whole—will be shared back with participants through distinct methods, allowing researchers to assess best practices and impact of personal report-back. The project is a novel collaboration between researchers and cohort members who function as the community partner via their membership in a Participant Advisory Council. Its findings will be used to help shape other biomonitoring cohort studies across the country.

Linking Pregnancy History to Cardiovascular Risk

Research from Child Health and Development Studies showed some combinations of pregnancy complications were associated with as much as a 7-fold increase in risk of cardiovascular disease death overall. Other combinations were associated with a 4- to 5-fold higher risk of dying of cardiovascular disease early, before the age of 60. It’s the most extensive study  of its kind, following 15,000 women over fifty years, and means that many doctors could be screening —and doing early interventions—for cardiovascular risk simply by looking at a woman’s pregnancy history.


Making New Connections Between Chemical Exposure and Disease Across Generations

Research from PHI's Child Health and Development Studies found that women who were exposed to higher levels of the pesticide DDT in utero—particularly a more estrogenic form, o,p’-DDT, found in commercial DDT—were nearly four times more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer as adults than women who were exposed to lower levels before birth. The study was published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).

“This 54-year study is the first to provide direct evidence that chemical exposures for pregnant women may have lifelong consequences for their daughters’ breast cancer risk,” said one of the study’s authors, Barbara A. Cohn, PhD, of the Public Health Institute (PHI) in Berkeley, CA. “Environmental chemicals have long been suspected causes of breast cancer, but until now, there have been few human studies to support this idea.”

Learn more about the study, which was covered in media outlets such as NBC News, The Washington Post, Forbes, TIME Magazine, National Geographic, and more. See the coverage.

Producing Lifesaving Research: Women with Irregular Menstrual Cycles at Increased Risk of Ovarian Cancer Death

PHI’s Child Health and Development Studies (CHDS) found that women with irregular menstrual cycles had up to a threefold increased risk of ovarian cancer. The findings will provide new tools to identify early warning signs for a type of cancer that in the past has gone unnoticed until it’s too late.

More than 50 years ago, CHDS enrolled over 15,000 mothers early on in their pregnancy. Follow-up studies of their children, now adults, and of their grandchildren enable CHDS scientists to study health across generations and seek ways to prevent disease early in life. Identifying risk factors for ovarian cancer, which is usually not diagnosed until after it has spread, allows clinicians to develop strategies to potentially save lives. The findings from this study published in 2016 in the International Journal of Cancer give women and clinicians new tools to identify irregular menstrual cycles as an early warning sign for a cancer that might otherwise be ignored. Learn more about the study.