The longitudinal study is an important effort seeking to improve the health of young adults.
Launched in Fall 2019, the Mason: Health Starts Here study is well underway and continues to collect data on the habits and health of student participants at George Mason University. Principal investigators, Drs. Larry Cheskin and Alison Cuellar recently published the protocol of the study in BMC Public Health. They noted that the university’s highly diverse student population makes it an ideal setting for the 5-year cohort study. So far, Mason: Health Starts Here has collected data from two cohorts—freshman from Fall 2019 and Fall 2020. The study will help researchers understand how habits developed in young adulthood affect health outcomes over time. Students are historically an under-studied population.
“Almost all other studies look at older folks, or at already-sick people to understand risks for health and disease,” says Cheskin, professor and chair of the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies. “We are looking at young adults proactively, before health starts to decline.”
The study will look at at dietary patterns among the students and will compare them to national averages for young adults. The study will also look at racial and ethnic parameters as Mason is a minority-majority campus.
Mason: Health Starts Here will continue to collect data on participants and recruit freshman students between the ages of 18-24 years old. Researchers maintain check-ins with participants every semester for the next 4 years through online surveys and in-person clinic visits.
“The data we’ve gathered will allow researchers, but also the participants themselves, to learn more about the connections between health, mental health, and academic success,” says Cuellar, professor of Health Administration and Policy. “Our long-term goal for this study is to support the development of effective, low-cost interventions that will encourage young adults to be healthy and succeed in college.”
The study team includes Rana Ziaul, postdoctoral fellow and Alyssa Wilson, research assistant.
Students who wish to participate can visit the Health Starts Here website for more information.