WASHINGTON — The National Institutes of Health is launching a new project to help unravel how early-in-life environmental exposures may affect certain childhood disorders.

NIH Director Francis Collins says the goal is to learn how children’s environments interact with genetics and other factors to affect four public health issues: Asthma and other airway disorders, obesity, autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders, and birth defects.

Thursday’s announcement marks a second shot at tackling those important questions. Last year, cost and design problems prompted Collins to cancel the more ambitious National Children’s Study that eventually was supposed to track multiple health effects in 100,000 children from womb to adulthood.

The seven-year project will add questions about environmental factors to existing, smaller child health studies.