Universities join to promote patient wellness
A long-term project focused on prevention and well-being was recently launched in Hangzhou, in East China’s Zhejiang Province, to find solutions to the world’s growing chronic disease problems.
The Stanford Prevention Research Center (SPRC) in partnership with researchers at Zhejiang University launched the project WELL-China this month as part of the center’s Wellness Living Laboratory (WELL) initiative.
This project is unique because it emphasizes “well-being” as opposed to the healthcare system, which focuses on negative events rather than promoting positive attributes and human function, according to Randall Stafford, a professor of medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine and director of its program on prevention outcomes and practices.
And it’s easier to motivate changes in lifestyle behaviors when the focus is on increasing well-being, according to him.
The project is also unique because it, in collaboration with local government leaders and healthcare professionals, will recruit 10,000 people in Xihu District as “citizen scientists” to collect a broad range of test data and information, said Shankuan Zhu, founder and director of the Chronic Disease Research Institute at Zhejiang University.
The participants will not only provide information about themselves, but they’ll also contribute to the selection of topics to investigate.
“More importantly, the research will be taken to the public through this project, and scientific knowledge will be spread more effectively among the public,” said Zhu, also vice-dean of the School of Public Health at Zhejiang University.
By building a cohort of 10,000 participants and following them over many years, the researchers can learn about changes in their health behaviors.
“We are particularly interested in how trends toward less physical activity, less healthy diets, alcohol use, cigarette smoking, more mental stress, and worse sleep patterns impact both wellbeing and chronic disease,” Stafford said.
This “population research” is enhanced by the extensive array of data that will be collected to allow synthesis of information on wellbeing, health behaviors, bioassays and genomic data, physical testing and the local environment, he said.
WELL-China also incorporates an “intervention research” approach by recruiting some of the participants to take part in studies that test out various new strategies for promoting and preserving well-being.
“These rigorous studies will tell us what approach works best,” Stafford said.
In 2014, the SPRC was awarded funding to support wellness research in an international site for its broad WELL initiative, and Hangzhou was selected as the location.
“We felt that China provided unique opportunities for research on the relationship between lifestyle behaviors, chronic disease and well-being,” said Stafford. “Much of the world is catching up to the US’ chronic disease epidemic, and in China this is happening rapidly.”
As the world’s most populous country, China carries a growing burden of chronic diseases, especially heart disease, stroke, cancer, obesity and diabetes.
According to the “2015 report on Chinese nutrition and chronic disease”, 533 out of every 100,000 Chinese residents died from chronic disease in 2012, accounting for 86.6 percent of all deaths.