Ontario Recruiting for Massive Health Study

Researchers in the province of Ontario have embarked on the largest long-term health study ever conducted in North America. An initial research phase involving 8,000 adults in three different communities in Ontario is complete and the Ontario Health Study is now beginning the main phase, which will follow the health of adults in the province for the rest of their lives.

This week, study organizers kicked their recruitement efforts into high gear with advertising, posters, tweets and Facebook updates being used in an attempt to recruit around 2 million volunteers (around 20% of eligible adults in the province).

The original press release from September invited all Ontario adults to join the research effort. In the release, Professor Lyle Palmer, the Executive Science Director for the Ontario Health Study, explained the purpose of the research:

“Ontario’s large, ethnically diverse population, world-class medical research, and outstanding health data linkage system make it the ideal place to conduct research that will lead to advances in the prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma and other common conditions. We have planned a strategy to reach out to all adults living in Ontario from every ethnic and social background in order to collect data that can be used to improve the health of all of Ontario’s communities, and to produce findings that will be relevant throughout the world.”

The research is being led by four government-funded organizations, namely:

  • The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research
  • Cancer Care Ontario
  • The Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion
  • The Canadian Partnership Against Cancer

Other than the Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion, which is dedicated to protecting and promoting the health of all Ontarians and reducing inequities in health, all of the funding agencies are focused on one disease: Cancer
While there are certainly many other things that ail Ontarians, cancer is arguably the disease with the greatest impact on the province. According to Statistics Canada’s recently released data on causes of death in 2007, cancer was the leading cause of death in Canada, accounting for 30% of all deaths. This was followed by heart disease (22%) and stroke (6%). Alarmingly, while deaths from heart disease and stroke are decreasing, deaths from cancer continue to increase.

The Frequently Asked Questions about the survey go into great detail on the measures that will be used to protect the privacy of study participants and outside of an unexpected privacy breach, that shouldn’t really be a concern. However, some people may be interested in the way the data may be used.
While no personal information on study participants will be provided to outside organizations, the resulting data will be available for use by the government (as would be expected as funders of the study) as well as for commercial purposes. Private sector companies, such as drug companies and other industry groups, will be able to purchase the data to assist them in the development of new therapies and to make improvements to existing therapies. 
While that theoretically sounds like a positive development, some people may question whether the data will also be used as a marketing tool to help better target specific groups with specific drugs or other health products and services that may or may not lead to better health outcomes (e.g. elective surgery, infant formula, over the counter drugs, weight loss programs, and more).

Ultimately, the study will provide an incredible amount of rich information on Ontarians if enough people agree to participate. If this can truly contribute to improved health outcomes in the province (especially as it relates to cancer), then it has the potential to improve the quality of life of Ontarians and to allow for decreased or more optimized health care spending through the public health care system.

If you are in Ontario and want to learn more about the study or consider participating, you can find information on the Ontario Health Study’s website: www.ontariohealthstudy.ca.

Annie blogs about the art and science of parenting at the PhD in Parenting blog.

Image credit: Screen capture of Ontario Health Study twitter account taken on December 29, 2010.


jane richmond
jane richmond7 years ago

Thanks. Keep research into cancer going!

Ann Fox
Ann Fox7 years ago

Dear Doris. I support any scientific research that is unbiased! Cancer has affected my family many times and all those drugs were ineffective and expensive and the only drug that gave my dad ANY kind of relief was cannabis.That is illegal! Why? When the big pharma companies get involved that will change! Nobody has the right to tell you what you can and can't do when you are in the departure lounge when it comes to picking your treatment!

Paraskevi A.
Voula Angelakis7 years ago


Sharon Schaffhauser

Cancer is a symptom of dis-ease....a ph imbalance created by a toxic environment. Remove the patient from the toxic environment and watch the healing begin....ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

Jessie M.
Jessie M7 years ago

Sounds like a great study! All the provinces should do the same.

Barbara Erdman
Barbara Erdman7 years ago

Good for Ontario....

Kay L.
KayL NOFORWARDS7 years ago

Just signed up for the study. :-) I firmly believe in scientific research.

Arthur J.
Arthur Joyce7 years ago

Added to the corruption of our cancer agencies and Big Pharma is the construction industry, which laces building materials with toxic chemicals. Everything from the glue in plywood, to stain resistant carpets, to drapes treated with fire retardant, will off-gas toxins. A new home is like a cancer incubator, unless you can afford to spend enough money to get the non-toxic alternatives to regular building materials. You have to pay not to be poisoned. But a good start is to go to Dr. Samuel Epstein's website for a checklist of things in the home that could be cancer-causing. www.preventcancer.com

Deb Lewis
debbie Lewis7 years ago

thanx...you can't find solutions without research!

Kristi o.
Kristi O7 years ago

Nanette, got off of here already! Unbelievable!
I agree with Ann...there is no money in a cure, only treatments. Big Pharma will block anyone who actually comes up with a cure for cancer unless Big Pharma profits from it. I don't give to cancer organizations either because none of them will stand up to Big Pharma. No cure will ever provide them with repeat customers like a treatment will, so their investment in it is nill. They are a cancer in and of themselves, feeding off of sick people and forcing them to be dependent on their products.