Ontario Health Study a chance to improve public health

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Nearly 225,000 Ontarians have helped advance the public health of future generations right from their computers by taking the Ontario Health Study’s (OHS) online questionnaire. The OHS continues to recruit participants to provide important health data and samples. This information will help researchers understand the risk factors and causes of chronic diseases and to develop new prevention strategies and treatments.

Getting involved in the OHS is a simple, straightforward process. Anyone who is 18 years of age or older and a resident of Ontario can take part in the Study. They just need to go to www.ontariohealthstudy.ca, register and then take the survey, which takes about 45 minutes. The OHS follows strict privacy practices that govern how personal information is collected, who can see it and how it can be used.

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The OHS recently celebrated its third anniversary, and is already one of the largest long-term health studies in Canada. The OHS continues to enrol new volunteer participants to take the online questionnaire. Some participants have taken their involvement further with 5,800 providing a sample through the Blood Collection Program and 3,600 have paid a visit to the Toronto Assessment Centre to provide other physical measures.

“Long-term health studies like the OHS are essential to our understanding of chronic diseases,” says Dr. Vivek Goel, Principal Investigator of the OHS and President and CEO of Public Health Ontario. “With only a small investment of your time you can make a real and lasting difference in the health of future generations. We appreciate the participation of so many Ontarians, and if you haven’t yet joined the study, I encourage you to sign up today.”

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The OHS is just one piece of an even larger national effort called the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project (CPTP). The CPTP consists of the OHS and four other regional studies: The BC Generations Project, Alberta’s Tomorrow Project, Quebec’s CARTaGENE and the Atlantic PATH. Nationally, the CPTP has more than 289,000 participants aged 35 to 69 and more than 100,000 have provided a blood sample.

“By joining this landmark study, Canadians have contributed to the creation of a rich national bank of health information to help researchers answer fundamental questions about the causes of cancer and chronic disease for future generations.  This platform will be available for researchers beginning in 2015 and will serve as an important resource for decades to come,” says Dr. Heather Bryant, Vice President, Cancer Control, Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.

Those who want to contribute even more to the Ontario Health Study can add their name to a pool of participants who are interested in providing a blood sample or visiting the Toronto Assessment Centre.

The OHS Blood Collection Program is run in partnership with LifeLabs, which operates a number of Patient Service Centres located around the province. Those invited to provide a blood sample simply fill out a five-minute questionnaire online and then take their requisition form to the nearest LifeLabs Patient Service Centre. Not all those who express interest in providing a blood sample or visiting the Toronto Assessment Centre will be chosen to participate.

“The information provided in the initial online questionnaire provides us with an overall snapshot of the health of Ontarians as well as their exposure to chronic disease risk factors,” says Dr. Karen Menard, Chief Planning and Administrative Officer of the OHS. “By providing a blood sample or visiting the Toronto Assessment Centre, participants allow us to get a more detailed look at their health. We can then compile this data to draw broader conclusions about the health of the overall population.”

Menard says that although the Study has grown quickly over its first three years it is important for Ontarians to keep participating. “In three years we have had more than 200,000 people complete the questionnaire and the Study has gained the endorsement of Ontario’s universities, research teaching hospitals and other relevant organizations,” she says. “But this is just the beginning of a very long-term project. Now we are working on taking this great opportunity to as many communities as possible to keep this momentum going.”

The Study is currently focusing on face-to-face outreach with community groups and hospitals. If you would like someone from OHS to visit your organization to discuss the Study, contact Jocelyn Garrett at Jocelyn.Garrett@ontariohealthstudy.ca.

How to get started:

• Visit www.ontariohealthstudy.ca to register for the Study and complete the online questionnaire. It only takes about 45 minutes. You have six weeks to complete the questionnaire from the time you start it;

• After you have completed the questionnaire you will be able to volunteer to provide a blood sample and/or visit the Toronto Assessment Centre by clicking on the appropriate “Express Your Interest” button. Not all those who volunteer for this portion of the Study will be selected;

• If you are selected for blood collection or a visit to the Toronto Assessment Centre you will receive an email invitation;

• Once you receive this email, log into your OHS account and click on the orange “Next Step” button to proceed with arranging your participation;

• If you have any questions you can speak to an OHS staff member by emailing info@ontariohealthstudy.ca or calling 1-866-606-0686.