Processing of the Harvard School of Public Health Longitudinal Studies of Child Health and Development Records

By , September 9, 2015
Faculty members of the Harvard School of Public Health Department of Maternal and Child Health, reading a Growth Study Case History. Seated: Bertha S. Burke, Harold C. Stuart, and Elizabeth P. Rice. Standing: Samuel W. Dooley and Samuel B. Kirkwood, circa 1949.

Faculty members of the Harvard School of Public Health Department of Maternal and Child Health, reading a Growth Study Case History. Seated: Bertha S. Burke, Harold C. Stuart (the studies’ first Pricipal Investigator), and Elizabeth P. Rice. Standing: Samuel W. Dooley and Samuel B. Kirkwood, circa 1949, H MS c450. From the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.

The Center for the History of Medicine is pleased to report that Center staff are currently processing the Records of the Harvard School of Public Health Longitudinal Studies of Child Health and Development, as part of the Bridging the Research Data Divide project. The longitudinal studies were one of several initiatives founded in the 1930s, in response to a lack of knowledge of child health and development. In July 1930, President Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) called the White House Conference on Child Health and Protection, to study child health as it currently stood, and to recommend best practices for the future of child healthcare. The conference, in part a response to the health impacts of the Great Depression, was convened in November 1930, and was attended by 3,000 medical, educational, and social professionals. Shortly after the conference, multiple longitudinal studies were founded across the country, including at the Harvard School of Public Health, the Fels Research Institute (Yellow Springs, Ohio), the University of Colorado Child Research Council (Denver), and the University of California Institute of Child Welfare (Oakland). There was a recognized lack of knowledge about child growth and development, and multiple longitudinal studies were founded across the country after the conference, including at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The Harvard School of Public Health’s Longitudinal Studies of Child Health and Development was an initiative of the school’s Department of Maternal and Child Health, and was led by Harold Coe Stuart (1891-1976). Later principal investigators were Isabelle Valadian (born 1920) and Jane Gardner (born 1939). Of the 309 subjects enrolled between 1930 and 1939, 228 were followed through age 6 (preschool series), and 134 subjects were followed from the prenatal period through to 18 years (maturity series).  Investigators tracked numerous aspects of subjects’ health and development, including growth, diet, illness, dental and ocular health, posture, psychological development, intelligence, and social functioning. Among other results, the data collected in this and other contemporary longitudinal studies were used to create the growth charts used today by pediatricians. After the original study was completed, subjects in the maturity series returned periodically over the next roughly 40 years for various follow-up studies, including: a 30-year follow-up on adult health related to child health; a 40-year follow-up related to blood pressure; a 50-year follow-up on gynecological health; and a 50-year follow-up related to memory of food intake in the distant past.

The records contain over 198 cubic feet of research data, reports, publications, and administrative records generated and compiled over the course of the original and follow-up studies.  Raw research data includes: anthropometric measurements; completed surveys and forms; tables; subject interviews; narrative health, social, and psychological histories; nude full-body subject photographs and negatives; and various medical test reports (electrocardiograms, echocardiograms, and blood and urine tests). The collection also contains summarized research data, coded research data (tables, computer punch cards and paper tape, and magnetic computer tapes), and analyzed research data (charts, graphs, percentile calculations, and statistical calculations). Administrative records include subject lists and examination schedules, protocols, methodologies, codebooks, blank forms and charts used in data collection and analysis, reports, grant funding records, and administrative correspondence.

The project is a collaboration with the University of Alberta Libraries, focusing on enhancing long-term access and preservation of historical and contemporary research data sets related to maternal, infant, and child health.  As a part of the project, Center staff will also open two other research data collections: the records of the multisite Infant Health and Development Program (1985-2014) led by Marie McCormick; and records of the Social Transition and Risk for Disordered Eating in Fiji study (2004-2010) led by Ann E. Becker. The project is funded by a Hidden Collections Grant administered by the Council on Library Resources (CLIR). For more information regarding the collection or the project, please contact Emily R. Novak Gustainis, Head, Collections Services.

 

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