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Effort will aim to find out what makes for long, healthy lives

The Wellness Living Laboratory will examine lifestyle choices that lead to healthier lives.

- By Becky Bach

John Ioannidis

The Stanford Prevention Research Center plans to launch the Wellness Living Laboratory, an effort to determine which lifestyle and environmental factors — such as diet, exercise and mental well-being — lead to long, healthy lives. The laboratory also will examine health interventions such as classes and counseling.

“We need to understand lifestyle choices not just one patient at a time,” said John Ioannidis, MD, DSc, director of the Stanford Prevention Research Center and the C.F. Rehnborg Professor.

The program, abbreviated WELL, is being funded by an unrestricted $10 million gift from Amway’s Nutrilite Health Institute Wellness Fund.

WELL plans to enroll thousands of volunteers — who Ioannidis calls “citizen scientists” — in two initial locations: Santa Clara County, Calif., and China, with plans to expand to other sites in the future. Researchers launched preliminary work this month and hope to begin enrolling volunteers next year.

As currently designed, the program will allow participants to choose which health factors to track and which practices to test for their effect on health. Cutting-edge sensors and tools will allow participants to report most of their information digitally and remotely, Ioannidis said.

The participants also will have the opportunity to enroll in a variety of clinical trials to test various interventions, such as nutrition counseling or smoking-cessation programs, he said. 

The program will focus on wellness, rather than diseases. The hypothesis is that promoting wellness thwarts diseases, Ioannidis said.

Anyone interested in the work will have the opportunity to benefit from access to a program-wide social networking effort that will spread news of successful practices, Ioannidis said. “This outer sphere could reach out to tens of millions of people,” he added.

Although the project has an initial five-year time frame, Ioannidis said he hopes it will continue for many decades in the future to provide long-term insights.

“There’s clearly a lot of enthusiasm for obtaining clear information about healthy living,” he said.

Ioannidis said researchers selected China because of its large population, rapidly expanding economy and its concomitant growth of chronic disease.

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