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Massive U of G study examines strain on our health care costs

A University of Guelph research team is planning to track thousands of local children into early adulthood as part of a huge study designed to help to rein in health-care costs in Ontario.
This fall, the team will begin a family health study that aims to help produce a healthier generation less prone to chronic health problems that strain the health-care system, said a U of G news release.
Involving researchers in two colleges on campus, the Guelph Family Health Study will ultimately track 3,000 young families in Guelph and Wellington County. The project will begin with a one-year pilot study of 50 families this fall.
About half of Canadian health-care costs go to treat the effects of major chronic diseases, notably obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, David Ma, a professor in the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, said in the release.
“We’re at a tipping point where our health-care dollars are far exceeding capacity,” said Ma, who studies fats and health. “We need a new approach.”
He and other U of G researchers think that approach should focus more on disease prevention and promotion of better lifestyle choices.
For the pilot study, Guelph families with at least one child between 18 months and five years old are being recruited.
U of G grad students will visit the study families to gather information about body composition, weight and other factors, and to learn about lifestyle habits such as diet, exercise, sleep and time spent in sedentary activities such as TV-watching and online activity.
The team will make general recommendations to a control group of families and offer tailored suggestions to a second group. At the end of the one-year pilot, they will use surveys, questionnaires and blood tests for genetic biomarkers to see what changes have occurred, the release said.
The team will also use this year’s results to refine their planned full-blown study of 3,000 families. It will take place over two decades, allowing researchers to track children into early adulthood. The researchers hope to learn which early interventions are better than others in the long term.
The research interests of U of G faculty members involved with the interdisciplinary team include genetics, gut microbiology, body composition, physical activity, nutrition, clinical health, fats and health, and disease prevention.
They’re working with the Guelph Family Health Team, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health and the Guelph Community Health Centre. Those agencies are helping to recruit families for the study, which includes ensuring that subjects represent various socioeconomic and demographic groups.
This family health study is part of a larger preventive health research and teaching project at U of G, the release said.

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