Sprout Baby sells organic and natural products for babies and moms. When Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) interviewed founder Jody Sherman by phone, we learned about the process the company uses to vet products for sale on their site. We also learned that the story behind this baby products company has an unusual — and heart-tugging — twist.
We think you’ll love Sprout Baby’s products — as well as its generous referral program. This is Part Two of two parts. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
BPGL: Do any of the staff at Sprout Baby have babies of their own?
SHERMAN: One of my partners is a mom named Emily. Emily used to be a teacher, but after she had a baby, she decided she wanted to spend more time with her daughter. Emily basically looked like our customer base. She was 26 years old at the time, really focused on having a healthy environment for her baby.
She opened a store in Venice, California, that just sold eco-conscious products and slightly used recycled products. She got involved with Sprout Baby, and she does deep research on products. She represents the customer really well because she is the customer.
My other partners either had a baby or were trying, and since then, in the year we’ve been in business, we’ve had three newborns.
BPGL: So you have a lot of market research capability right in your own staff. Having their own little ones using the organic baby products must be a great motivator for working at Sprout Baby. Is that what gets all of you going to work each morning?
SHERMAN: I don’t have any kids, but I have two young nephews — five and six. I’ve known them, obviously, since they were born. And I think they’re the reason why we’re doing this — for me, anyway. The rest of my team will tell you they’re doing it for their own kids.
There was one other thing that influenced me getting involved in this business that I’ve only talked about recently. In 1988, somebody left a brand-new baby on my front porch. An eight-minute-old infant. Torn umbilical cord. On my porch. Wrapped in a sweatshirt. It was the weirdest experience I’ve ever had in my life.
At the time, it kind of put the hooks in me. I did what you’re supposed to do. I called the paramedics, and I did what the paramedics said, and the baby’s fine. But it really affected me, because I thought, Wow, this kid started out life being dealt the worst deck ever. He was dropped off on the porch of a bachelor who was never home — and just happened to be home on that day. Had I not been home, that baby would have died.
BPGL: That is an amazing story. I’ve never actually heard of that happening to anyone in real life. How did it affect your thinking about starting Sprout Baby?
SHERMAN: I just found myself thinking, My parents did such a good job raising me and my brother, even though, if you were to use the same information they had then to make many consumer choices now, you really wouldn’t be a great parent. The information they had then was state of the art, and now that information has been updated by better and more relevant information, in many cases.
For example, you don’t want to leave the kid in the car with the air conditioner running because it’s cooler than bringing them in the store; it’s unsafe for the baby and bad for the environment. You don’t want to feed them white carbs all the time. And you don’t want to put lotions on their skin that contain harmful or extraneous chemicals. You don’t want to paint your house with VOC-laden paints.
They didn’t know these things, but we do. And I feel like, if my company can help move the needle even a little, in teaching people to be conscious consumers — that right choices don’t have to be more expensive, harder choices — we can really have a long-lasting impact.
BPGL: You have an ad for the Sprout Baby Referral Program prominently displayed on your website. Is it connected with finding an adoptive home for your baby, if you don’t want to raise it?
SHERMAN: Absolutely not. No. Our referral program is about word of mouth, or “Word of Mom,” as we like to call it. It’s the reason I got into this business, when I learned how parents were making decisions based on the advice of other parents.
Early on, when we would get a new customer, I would oftentimes get an email from someone saying, “I just was told about this by customer XYZ, and I have a couple questions.” So we did some testing. I went out and started talking to customers. — I still call ten customers every single day, by the way, just to ask them how they’re doing with us as a company if there’s anything they’d like. — And it gave me an opportunity to pick their brains.
I asked them if they would be comfortable sharing what they know about us with other people, if we’d done a good job for them. And overwhelmingly, the answer was, “Yes!” So, I started talking with them about what would incentivize them to do that. Because, as much as I’d like them to be advocating for me, they’ve got other things to do, like raising a family and paying the bills and working at their job. We created this referral program based on those discussions.
When you become a customer, as soon as you get your first order, you get a card that has your referral code on it. You also get an email with your referral code. You can give that code to any of your friends, or anyone you know, and they will get 15 percent off their first order. And if it’s a new customer for us, we send you $10. There’s no limit to the number of customers you can refer to us.
We’re still running that program, and it’s been quite successful. Our customer acquisition cost has not gone up. What we’re paying as a referral fee is in line with allowing us to build our company in a way where we can responsibly grow and be around long term. Most moms know 10 people. If you tell 10 people, you can make $100, and you can do that fairly often. We send checks every week.
BPGL: What are some of the other products that you sell, besides baby food?
SHERMAN: We just launched diapers, and we did very extensive research on a lot of different diapering companies in order to pick a variety of diapers that met with our standards and our promise to Sprout Baby customers.
One of the brands we offer, Nature Baby Care, is even disposable — a choice a lot of parents make for convenience.
After doing massive amounts of research on every brand of disposable that was out there, including all of the “eco brands,” we liked Nature BabyCare because there is no polyurethane anywhere near this product. Urethane is one of the chemicals that we’ve sworn off.
Another thing is that it completely biodegrades. You can take this diaper when it’s done and throw it in the garbage. And when it goes into a landfill, it completely breaks down, back into nothing. And that’s the only diaper we’ve found that does that. Diapers take 500 years to disintegrate if they have plastic in them. It could be even be longer than that. Just think about that for a minute.
For cloth diapers, we’ve brought in Kissaluvs, Baby Bee Hinds and Play All Day. They’re wool, hemp, and cotton blends. The reason we went with them was that they are made of all-natural fibers from renewable resources.
We really like wool because not only is it a water repellent, but it stays dry, and it’s naturally cleaning. For example, when it gets wet, you can air dry it, and wool cleans itself. Every once in a while, you just re-lanolize it by putting lanolizing formula on it, and the wool diaper cover cleans itself again. It’s much, much lower impact on the environment.
BPGL: Have you noticed any issues with children being allergic to the wool in the diaper coverings?
SHERMAN: The wool is an outer cover for these diapers. We haven’t had any issues with that at all so far. The inner parts of the diapers are all either organic cotton or cotton hemp.
BPGL: What are some of the products you have for moms?
SHERMAN: We’ve just brought on a bunch of great lines of skincare products. There’s one in particular that we just introduced. It’s the line by Episencial. It’s a spinoff from Epicuren, which is an amazing high-end skincare line. Epicuren is an extremely well-regarded, boutique-only line that is super, super high quality. No bad ingredients. Everything is natural.
Kim Walls, the woman whose family started Epicuren, worked there for 15 years before starting her own company. Episencial is an all-new skincare line: sunscreens, lotions, etc., that are fruit-based, all-natural, and very reasonably priced.
BPGL: Have you vetted those skincare products on Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database?
SHERMAN: Yes we do. We check every single product that we evaluate. We also have a partnership with Healthy Child Healthy World — in fact, we give 1 percent of all of our sales to Healthy Child Healthy World to help support their organization. Anything anybody buys from us helps support them. When we look at products, one of the first things we do is look at it against their criteria. That is our minimum screen for how we would consider whether or not a product works for us.
If it meets Healthy Child’s criteria, we then look at all of the ingredients and everything else on our own. We look at the product’s ingredients against the ingredient list Healthy Child says to avoid, and then we go a step deeper and use Skin Deep to check the toxicity in the ingredients.
Once a product passes those criteria, whether it’s a skin product or a feeding item, or whatever, we then start looking at it from the perspective of usability, practicality, and cost. Because, for us, that balance has got to be there. If a product costs the same as its non-eco counterpart, but it’s hard to live with, that’s not a good product.
We want to bring products to the market that are effective in doing what they’re supposed to, that don’t have any harmful ingredients of any kind, that are comparable in cost to their non-eco counterpart, and that are easy to use. We use them all ourselves. We’ve got enough babies and toddlers around the company where we can test everything.
BPGL: Do you typically warehouse everything and send it out yourselves?
SHERMAN: I sit in a room full of baby food and other products every day.
BPGL: So, if you get hungry, you have something good to snack on.
SHERMAN: I actually do. [He laughs.] In fact, yesterday, I didn’t get a chance to eat lunch, so I opened a package of roasted bananas and brown rice. It’s like dessert!
BPGL: I assume you avoid ingredients like high fructose corn syrup.
SHERMAN: There’s nothing like that in Sprout Foods. In fact, if you were to look at the ingredients in something like Summer Squash, Yukon Gold Potatoes, and Parmesan, the ingredients in it are summer squash, Yukon gold potatoes, and parmesan. They don’t put anything that doesn’t belong in the food in it.
Sprout Foods is an amazing line of food. It tastes really good. When you open the package, the smell that you get from this food versus the smell that you get from other brands that are popular — it’s like night and day. The texture is better. It doesn’t have any of that watery consistency that you see with most bottled brands.
And besides being convenient, the pouches are shelf stable, so you don’t have to refrigerate them before opening. You tear off the top, and if you don’t use the whole package, you can reseal it with the built-in zip lock. And if you’re away from home, you can just throw the packages in your diaper bag or purse.
Basically, we’ve taken the same approach with our entire product assortment. Every product is easy to live with. Also, for every single product we sell, you’ll see a manufacturer’s description and our own description of why we like it, which is the real-world reasons why we chose this product.
BPGL: I wish Sprout Baby had been around when my children were born.
SHERMAN: When I was doing the initial research with moms, that was what I heard over and over again: Where were you a year ago? Where were you five years ago? I wish I’d had you when I had my babies.
End of Part Two
Sprout Baby has provided Blue Planet Green Living readers the following discount code for 15% off your first order: BPGL15 The code is good through JANUARY 15, 2010.
Follow Sprout Baby
Part One: Sprout Baby – Spreading by “Word of Mom”
Part Two: Sprout Baby – Love Your Baby, Love the Planet (Top of Page)
With the economy struggling to get back on its feet, you might think a fledgling eco-friendly baby products company wouldn’t stand much of a chance at survival. But California-based Sprout Baby celebrated its first anniversary last week, and the company is going strong.
What’s the secret of their success? And what makes Sprout Baby’s products so good that word-of-mouth advertising is their main — and highly effective — marketing strategy?
Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) interviewed founder and CEO Jody Sherman by phone from his Los Angeles office to find out. We think the insights he shared can help any company succeed, no matter what they’re selling. This is Part One of two parts. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
BPGL: What’s the story behind how you, an ex-Navy man, got started selling baby products?
SHERMAN: It’s a fairly long story, actually. I didn’t start out selling baby products.
I’ve been an entrepreneur since I got out of the Navy in 1988. When the Internet started, I got involved because I was in Northern California, and I was enamored with the idea of being in a new industry as it was growing. I had been involved in several e-commerce companies and, over time, had some successes and some exits, and my investors have made some money along the way. I also had some fun, and made enough money to take time off for a while.
When I went back to work, I found I was just doing the same thing I had been doing before, which was solving a problem nobody had.
BPGL: What do you mean by that?
SHERMAN: When I got into the Internet business, I worked for one of the first search engines, a company called Lycos. There were five search engines at the time, but Internet users didn’t need five search engines. We probably could have gotten along with one or two.
Then I sold software that you could download over the Internet. And, although it was convenient, people didn’t really need that at the time, either. Next I helped a company that made an email product, but there were plenty of email products.
These were all companies that were interesting and innovative, but they didn’t really solve big problems that the online world was uniquely positioned to do.
Then I started a company with a friend who was in the private jet business. We had seen that there was a real problem with the way people bought and sold time on private planes. I helped build that solution, and we sold it to Virgin.
BPGL: So you were financially successful when you finally solved a real problem for people.
SHERMAN: We were financially successful in most of these companies, at least from the perspective of our investors, who all made nice returns. But the best part of working with Virgin was, while I was there, I got to see what I really wanted to do with my life. What I liked about Virgin was, here’s a guy who owns several hundred companies, and in every case, even though the company is designed to make money, there is an aspect of giving back, taking care of the planet on which we live.
Richard Branson basically committed to taking 100 percent of the profits from his aviation businesses — which are gross polluters — and pouring that into environmental resources, investing in companies that would create solutions to environmental problems and things like that.
I was inspired to build a company that was going to address an environmental issue. So I went looking for a problem and, as it turned out, the problem found me.
BPGL: We should all be so lucky. What happened?
SHERMAN: I was walking around a grocery store one day. What I saw was moms talking to moms. Constantly. Or I’d see a pregnant lady walking down an aisle and somebody would intercept her and talk to her. Or, I’d see two pregnant women talking. I just kept seeing that over and over again, and I thought, There’s something to this.
So I started listening to the conversations a little bit. What they were talking about was, “When are you due?” “What’s your baby’s name?” “Who’s your doctor?” “Oh my god, you should try this food.” “I’m in this Mommy and Me group.” “I just read this book…” They were doing in the real world what we do on line. They were social networking. And what they were talking about were all of the things they deal with on a daily basis as moms.
I started watching a little closer, and I saw that it didn’t matter if you were a new mom, or if you were like my mom, who hadn’t had a kid in 38 years; you’re in it forever. It’s a sisterhood. Without actually writing down, “We agree to do this,” they’ve all agreed to support each other in some way. And I thought, Wow, there’s something powerful in that.
So, then I started talking to moms. I started asking them questions, and picking through their grocery carts, and asking why they made the decisions they made and how they made the decisions they made. Then I started asking them what they were concerned about.
BPGL: What were the moms’ biggest concerns?
SHERMAN: For some new moms, I kept hearing over and over again that their biggest concerns were centered around feeding and chemicals and things they were going to put in, on, and around their babies. They’re being bombarded with information about how damaging chemicals are to babies’ skin and to their health. And they’re worried about hormones in foods and such.
For second-time parents, I heard that being repeated, but I also heard things more around money — the concern about how expensive it is to raise a baby. I just started talking to some of my friends about, What if we could start a company that would help moms find eco-conscious, responsible products that are also top-notch, healthy choices for their children?
I had a couple of friends who thought that was an interesting idea. So I started traveling around the country and having the same discussions with moms everywhere. I went to 28 different cities, and I asked moms in little cities in Arizona, and big cities like Miami. I went up to Idaho. I went all over the place, and I kept hearing the same things.
BPGL: What did moms think about your idea of selling eco-conscious products?
SHERMAN: One of the things I heard was that people felt like being eco or being green was hard, elusive, and expensive. I personally found that to be a concern. We are all stewards of the planet. We all have a vested interest in making it last and leaving the next generation something better than we found. If taking better care of the planet either costs more money or feels like it does, those two things are at cross purposes.
BPGL: What was your next step, after interviewing moms across the country?
SHERMAN: We decided we would try to start a company that would source products that were authentically good to put around your kids, in your kids, on your kids and in your home. We would do deep research about those products, so that we could say with some confidence, “These are products that we have tested ourselves. This is the methodology we go through to evaluate products. We feel that these are products that we would use in our own families, and guess what — they’re also affordable.”
That’s not to say I didn’t have people sending me samples of $200 organic cotton receiving blankets. I mean, I would just laugh. I couldn’t even imagine selling something like that to a broad audience. So we went out and started looking for products.
BPGL: How did you come across the baby food that you sell at Sprout Baby?
SHERMAN: While I was searching for products, one of my friends was helping launch a new company. He was a consultant helping a new baby food company get started. There were some things about that baby food that made it interesting. For one, Sprout Foods was started by a celebrity chef, Tyler Florence, who has been on the Food Network for years. He’s a chef and a dad — he has a little one at home. It made sense that a chef would make baby food. And the baby food was really good. It was organic. It came in environmentally friendly pouches instead of glass or plastic jars, and there was no-BPA in the packaging.
Physically, it took up a smaller footprint, and it was lighter weight. You could ship 17 or 18 shipping containers worth of this food in the space of one shipping container of glass or plastic. It was also a perfect product to sell on line, since it was lighter weight than glass or plastic jars. Most importantly though, it was simply a great product. It’s good for growing babies, and it tastes amazing. It really is an authentically better option.
If I was going to start a store on line, and then start adding some other features, it seemed like a good idea to start with a product that would get some distribution in the real world and that already had some notoriety in the form of a chef who has three TV shows.
BPGL: Is Sprout Baby a part of the Sprout Foods company — or the other way around?
SHERMAN: No, we’re not. And I want to make that very clear. Sprout Foods is the company that we partnered with when we started. They make the baby food. But Sprout Baby sells a whole lot more than the food. We have launched into diapers, toys, bottles — practically everything you need for your baby — and many products for moms. All of our products are tested to the same high standard we started out with Sprout Foods.
BPGL: That sounds like a good bargain for parents and makes a lot of sense from a business standpoint. You had a running start just by selling Tyler Florence’s baby food. So, what were your challenges in getting started?
SHERMAN: If you know anything about building an Internet company, building the site is the easy part. The problem is getting people to use it; if you build a mall in the middle of the desert and have no roads to it, you won’t make any sales. So, we thought, What if we could create a relationship with Sprout Foods that would allow us to sell their food online as the first product we’d introduce people to?
It’s a low-cost product to introduce someone to. And it’s food, so if your baby likes that food, you keep feeding it to your baby. It was a good entry point that would allow us to create what we hoped would become a trusted relationship with our customers. We sent them food, and their credit cards were charged. They didn’t experience fraud, and they got what they expected. And if they had a customer service interaction with us, they had a very positive experience. They were happy, and they came back to us again and again.
We would use that as a way to then start introducing them to other products in other categories. We focused first on other consumable products, because those are the products that get used the most. Then we started to look at adding more hard goods. There’s a whole lot more to Sprout Baby than baby food.
End of Part One
Sprout Baby has provided Blue Planet Green Living readers the following discount code for 15% off your first order: BPGL15 The code is good through JANUARY 15, 2010.
Follow Sprout Baby
Part One: Sprout Baby – Spreading by “Word of Mom” (Top of Page)
In the United States today, 1 in 25 children have autism spectrum disorder; 1 in 4 children in Queens, New York, have asthma; and 30% of the kindergarten children in a North Florida school district are overweight. Today, these statistics don’t seem unusual. Obesity, childhood diabetes, autism, and other diseases afflict more and more children every year. Without a doubt, these statistics should alarm us. And the trend toward increased childhood disease seems to be on an irreversible path. But what if we knew what caused these diseases? Could we then figure out how to stop them?
Yesterday, the National Institutes of Health announced the launch of the National Children’s Study, an ambitious, decades-long project that may well reveal the causative factors of a host of childhood — and adult — illnesses.
One of the key figures behind the study is Phil Landrigan, MD, MSc, who directs the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. Landrigan is also the chairman of the Department of Community & Preventative Medicine, as well as a professor of pediatrics there.
If you don’t recognize Dr. Landrigan’s name, you will recognize his critically important contribution to your health. In 1976, Landrigan, along with Dr. Herb Needleman, documented widespread lead poisoning in children. This information persuaded the US government to mandate an end to lead in paint and gasoline. Referring to Landrigan’s and Needleman’s work, Dr. Michael Shannon, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Environmental Health, was quoted in The Lancet as saying, “In complete correlation with the reduction of lead from these sources, the blood lead level of every child, actually every American, fell by more than 40%. It was an absolute monumental achievement.”
Landrigan will head the first of seven Vanguard study sites, all of which will open in 2009. Some 40 centers are planned. Landrigan’s center, in Queens, New York, began to recruit study volunteers January 13.
Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) spoke with Dr. Landrigan by phone from his New York office. What follows is the first of two interviews. Our second interview, with Dr. Jeff Murray of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, will run tomorrow. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
BPGL: Tell us about the National Children’s Study.
LANDRIGAN: The National Children’s Study is the largest research study of children’s health that’s ever been undertaken in this country. It’s what we call a prospective epidemiologic study, which means it’s going to enroll moms very early in pregnancy and follow the children out to at least age 21.
The goal of the study is to identify factors in the environment that cause disease in children, like autism and childhood cancer, attention deficit disorder, asthma, diabetes, birth defects, prematurity, and low birth weight.
To assess environmental exposure, we’ll do a history for every mom in the study during her pregnancy. We’re going to get samples of blood and urine from each mom at several points in pregnancy, to measure levels of several hundred chemicals in the blood of each mother. We will also be assessing personal behaviors such as drug, alcohol and tobacco consumption, the social environment and the environment of the community in which each mom resides. We are looking at those issues, because we strongly suspect that social and community factors interact with chemical exposures in the causation of disease in children.
We’ll get a sample of umbilical cord blood from each baby at the time of delivery. We’ll be tracking the babies very closely as they grow up, with exams at 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, and 10 years of age, with very thorough developmental assessments at several points along that ladder. The overall goal is basically to link environmental exposure in early life to the subsequent development of these kinds of diseases in kids.
BPGL: I understand the NCS is similar to the Framingham Study of heart disease and stroke. Can you elaborate on that?
LANDRIGAN: The Framingham Heart Study is the model for the National Children’s Study. Back in 1948, at a time when rates of heart disease and stroke were rapidly skyrocketing in this country, the Public Health Service went to the city of Framingham and undertook a prospective study of the population of the whole city. They signed up people for the study, took a history and physical examination on each person, measured their blood pressure, and so on. They tracked the people prospectively through the years to see what the risk factors were for heart disease and stroke. It was out of Framingham that we learned everything that we now understand today about the risks for cardiovascular disease.
So, for example, it was Framingham that taught us about cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, obesity, diabetes, sedentary lifestyle — all that information came first from Framingham and has since been replicated in other studies. It’s acting on that information about preventable risk factors for disease that we have succeeded in this country in knocking down the rates of heart disease and stroke by about 60 percent. It’s really one of the biggest triumphs in public health in this country in the last half century — and one of the least broadcast.
BPGL: I read on the NCS website that finding the causes of diabetes one of the primary foci. What else are you planning to study?
LANDRIGAN: There are about 20 primary foci. And they’re all specified in the planning of the study. I mentioned autism, diabetes, childhood cancer, asthma, attention deficit disorder, also in older children, mental health problems like depression and schizophrenia.
BPGL: Will you follow diet as well?
LANDRIGAN: Yes. We’re also getting DNA on everybody, so we’ll have a chance to look at genetic factors.
BPGL: Are you also looking at immunizations?
BPGL: Since most kids are required by their school system to be immunized, will you have enough controls for comparison?
LANDRIGAN: The study is going to be following 100,000 children. So, in a population as large as this, there will be children who do not get immunized. We know from national vaccine rates that this large number of children will give us a substantial number of kids who are not immunized.
If you’re thinking about autism, the math says that 1 in 150 children is currently diagnosed with autism. In a population of 100,000, we will have about 600-700 hundred kids with autism, or at least with autism spectrum disorder. So that should be enough to really take a very careful look at if vaccines are related to autism or not. If they are, we’ll have a chance to look at that. And we’ll also have a chance to look at a lot of other potential factors for autism, like prenatal exposure to pesticides or lead or other chemicals.
BPGL: Will you be sampling the air in the environment as well?
LANDRIGAN: Yes. We’ll doing sampling in the home, in the air, and as I mentioned, sampling of the mother herself during pregnancy, so that we can see what chemicals the baby is seeing during the nine months of pregnancy.
BPGL: In the recruitment process, is there any danger that parents may be self-selecting?
LANDRIGAN: We hope not. There’s an element of risk of that, of course. The study is set up according to very strict principles of statistical sampling so that it can be conducted in 105 counties across the U.S. Those counties were selected entirely according to statistical methodology. Then within the counties, we’ll be going to certain communities and certain neighborhoods, which again, have been selected entirely according to principles of statistical sampling. And then, the way we try to avoid self-selection is that we try to maximize the percentage of families that join the study. The higher the percentage of families in a given community that join the study, the less the risk of self-selection. It’s always a concern. We’re always worried about it, but we try hard to avoid it.
BPGL: I’m curious why the research study is just getting started in 2009, when it was authorized in 2000.
LANDRIGAN: There are a couple of factors. This was an enormous planning effort. So, from 2000 to 2005, we spent planning. The first contracts to actually do the study were awarded in September of 2005. Our group in New York was one of seven groups around the country who got contracts in the first wave. If all had gone according to schedule, we would have started sometime in 2006.
But what happened was, in February of 2006, President Bush declared that the study was not a funding priority, and he directed the NIH to close it down. We therefore had to postpone our fieldwork and instead work through the Congress to save the study. We had to do that each of the last three years. So, only now, we’re getting into the field.
BPGL: Do you have confidence that you’ll receive steady government funding once the study launches, so that you can continue your important work?
LANDRIGAN: We’ll be working to ensure that. We’ve survived so far through some very tough times, so we hope that we can continue [for the full term of the project]. Because we’re increasingly concerned that early exposures may be the root cause of disease later in life, things like cancer, Parkinson’s disease, dementia … my own feeling is that once you launch a study like this and once you invest the extraordinary amount of energy that you must invest to sign up families and keep them with the study for 21 years, that nobody, least of all the families themselves, are going to want to break away at that age.
The Framingham study is still going after 60 years. They’re now in the third generation. In Framingham, they were signed up as adults, but they picked up the kids who were born to those adults and followed them through. And now they’re into the third generation.
BPGL: Could you tell me briefly about your instrumental role in setting this study up?
LANDRIGAN: I was part of it. Back in ’96 – 97, I served for about a year as a special assistant to Carol Browner, when she was the administrator of the US EPA. I set up the Office of Children’s Environmental Health at EPA. It was basically out of the work of that office that we conjured up the idea for this study.
We came to realize that rates of disease like cancer, asthma, autism, were rising in this country. We realized that kids are surrounded by chemicals, that kids are very susceptible, very vulnerable to chemicals, and that we knew far too little about the effects of the chemicals on kids’ health. So we said to ourselves, Hey, we need a big study that builds on the little bits and pieces of evidence that we have, and create a much more systematic body of knowledge about the impact of chemicals on children’s health.
BPGL: Was Carol Browner supportive of that?
BPGL: Is there anything else you’d like to our readers to know?
LANDRIGAN: Here at Mt. Sinai Medical School, where I’m situated in New York City, we’re not only doing the National Children’s Study, we’re also very much involved in training the next generation of pediatricians who are going to be the leaders in this country in the field of environmental pediatrics. Be sure to mention that it’s so important to couple research with training and education.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Part 1: Landmark National Children’s Study Launches in US (Top of Page)