You can help uncover disease risk factors in 30 minutes

Aug 23, 2011

You can help uncover disease risk factors in 30 minutesTwenty Canadians are diagnosed with diabetes every hour. More than 1.5 Canadians have heart disease, and 75,000 Canadians will die from cancer. You and your co-workers can help reduce these statistics, and raise your own understanding of your personal health, by completing a confidential 30-minute survey. The results will improve Ontarians’ personal lifestyle choices, promote healthy workplace behaviour, influence future clinical care, and shape government health policy.

The survey is part of the Ontario Health Study, which aims to follow participants’ health over time, creating an accurate picture of how lifestyle, environment and genes interact to determine our health. The information could uncover common risk factors for many chronic diseases, including cancer, diabetes, asthma, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.

Working life is an essential component of this ongoing research. “Forward-thinking companies stand at the forefront of developing and implementing positive workplace culture,” notes Lyle Palmer, the study's executive scientific director. “Studies like this have the potential to uncover previously unknown environmental risk factors that could affect employees.” The long-term benefit to workplaces: “data from the study could lead to healthier and more productive workplaces and workers as a result of new health findings and medical advances,” says Palmer.

As of mid-July, more than 33,000 Ontarians have registered to participate in the Ontario Health Study (OHS). The more people participating, the greater value the results will offer.

What’s involved

Participation begins with the 30-minute online survey, open to Canadians aged 18 and older who have their own email address (see below for the study’s website).

“Once you’ve enrolled in the Ontario Health Study,” explains Bill Bobek, the study’s senior communications manager, “we will contact you once a year to update your health information. You’ll also have an opportunity to participate in optional follow-up questionnaires on such topics as mental health, diet and physical activity.” Bobek stresses that ongoing participation is optional. “Participants can opt out at any time,” he says.

One employer’s experience

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario is the governing body for doctors in Ontario. It regulates the practice of medicine and governs the profession in accordance with the Regulated Health Professions Act. The college has promoted the Ontario Health Study to all physicians in Ontario. As an employer, the college has also encouraged its employees to take part.

“We thought this was important to share,” says Jill Hefley, the college’s associate director, communications. “The study has long-term benefits for everyone in Ontario, and we know our staff are interested in what’s going on in the health care environment. We also care about people’s health, so were happy to support and promote the study.”

For the college’s employees, this meant raising awareness of the study and encouraging them to get involved. “We were able to do that through staff meetings and our staff newsletter,” says Hefley. “We also posted a link to the survey on our Intranet, and provided an opportunity for employees to complete the survey during their workday. People were very receptive. They thought it was a great idea.”

Hefley signed up even before the college began supporting the study. “I filled the survey out as soon as I saw a subway advertisement. I was impressed right away with the kind of impact this sort of research can have.” She also enjoyed the process. “Filling out the survey was easy – it just took a few minutes. It also made me think a little bit more about my own health.”

How you can help

  1. Learn more about the Ontario Health Study
  2. Consider encouraging your workplace to participate.
  3. Forward this article to others who may be interested.
  4. If your workplace is already involved, email us with your communications tips, and we’ll share a sampling with our readers.