As reported in the Orlando Sentinel
By Naseem S. Miller on October 25, 2015
Lake Nona Life Project aims to understand link between community and health.
Lake Nona is launching an ambitious, long-term study to examine the association between lifestyle and health among its residents and workers.
The hope is that the findings from this study will one day have a global impact, much as the Framingham Heart Study has.
The project is in fact modeled after the Framingham study, which began in 1948 with 5,200 residents of the town of Framingham, Mass. Since then, the study has had tremendous impact on understanding risk factors for heart disease.
Leaders hope that the Lake Nona Life Project will be the Framingham Heart Study of the 21st century, but with a wider focus on health and wellness.
“This is a rare and important project, which happens once or twice every century,” said Gloria Caulfield, health-and-wellness director at Lake Nona Institute.
Located in southeast Orlando near Orlando International Airport, Lake Nona is yet to become a shopping and dining destination for Central Floridians, but to researchers, it’s a unique living laboratory.
Sprawled over 7,000 acres, Lake Nona is a growing community with a stable population. More than 10,000 houses are planned there in the next decade. All homes have a gigabit connection, which is 200 times faster than in the average U.S. home. The area has about 44 miles of trails, and 40 percent of it is reserved green space. It is home to Medical City — anchored by a medical school, hospitals and research institutes — and the U.S. Tennis Association.
The setup gives researchers the opportunity “to understand how technology, social network and community interplay with health and well-being,” said Kevin Wildenhaus, behavioral-science leader at Janssen Disease Interception Accelerator, which is part of Johnson & Johnson.
The study has two parts. The first part is an ongoing annual survey, which will provide the groundwork for the second part that includes narrower studies on specific topics, such as better understanding of the link between stress and lack of sleep, or how diet and exercise can affect our level of happiness.
The recruitment for the survey began in May, and the first batch of surveys is going out this month. Leaders hope to enroll 70 percent of the residents over time — a number they estimate to reach the low thousands.
Harrison Greene is among the first group of participants. He moved to Lake Nona last year after reading an article about it in Fortune magazine.
“I think I saw the Life Project on a website and loved what it’s all about. It really resonated with me,” said Greene, 72, who’s also a recruiter for the project.
“I had my life saved because of the Framingham study … and I wanted to be part of this study, to give back and help others live long, happy lives.”
Greene had double-bypass surgery, and he said his rehabilitation program benefited from information gained from the Framingham study.
Survey participants will be asked to complete annual surveys either online or via phone about health and lifestyle. The surveys, which are confidential, cover a wide range of issues, including demographics, mental and physical health. The survey responses are linked with medical records, which is optional for participants, to eventually shed light on the association between lifestyle and health.
Participants — whom the project calls “citizen scientists” — get free access to an online suite of the HealthMedia Digital Health Coaching program, which addresses chronic disease, stress and lifestyle issues.
The project is an initiative of the Lake Nona Institute and is carried out by Lake Nona Medical City researchers and partners. The project’s founding sponsor is Johnson & Johnson Health & Wellness Solutions, which is the main driver of the project’s research.
Researchers at J&J are looking at what it takes to shift health care from a reactive system to one focused on prevention. Lake Nona’s setup caught their eye.
“Some of the unique opportunities that we have in Lake Nona are elements that are built into bones of the environment,” said Shawn Mason, associate director of research and analytics for J&J Health & Wellness Solutions and a principal investigator for the study.
Researchers are planning to continually update the participants on research results and eventually publish their findings.
“This is really a rare opportunity,” said Caulfield of Lake Nona. “It’s special for our community. It’s special for Orlando that we’re being recognized as a place where a study like this could be successful.”
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