AJPH: 120,000 Nurses Who Shook Public HealthA new issue of the American Journal of Public Health celebrates the 40th anniversary of the historic Nurses’ Health Study — one of the nation’s longest-running public health studies, which has made vital contributions to knowledge of women’s health and the prevention of chronic disease.

The original study, launched by a team of Harvard University investigators in 1976 who examined data from a group of more than 120,000 nurses, originated with the goal of examining the long-term health effects of oral contraceptives. Since then, several offshoots have resulted from the original study, expanding to include other risk factors during early reproductive life, factors related to weight change and data from nurses that self-identified as members of a racial or ethnic minority. Over its 40-year span, the study has retained an estimated 94 percent of its original population.

“In this issue of AJPH we have opted to stress one of the historical contributions of the NHS, and perhaps the most unique: its standing out as the greatest active contribution an occupational group has ever made to science and to public health,” said AJPH Editor-in-Chief Alfredo Morabia, MD, PhD, in his editorial “120,000 Nurses Who Shook Public Health.” “It provided a model for many other cohort studies launched on other continents. This is indeed a very noteworthy public health anniversary,”

The issue compiles many papers on issues specific to women’s health, including reproductive health, contraception and breast cancer.

“Importantly, research in the NHS has identified ways in which women may reduce their risk of breast cancer, including limiting adult weight gain, reducing the duration of estrogen-plus-progestin HT use, limiting alcohol consumption, and increasing consumption of vegetables,” writes Megan Rice, ScD, lead author of “Breast Cancer Research in the Nurses’ Health Studies: Exposures Across the Life Course.” “As we enter the fifth decade of the Nurses’ Health Studies, we are seeking new ways to further our understanding of breast cancer etiology and prevention.”

Research in the issue also examines how findings from the study have helped illuminate the role diet, lifestyle and genetics play in preventing type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases.

“The NHS data have contributed substantially to current dietary guidelines and policies that promote healthy eating patterns and limit consumption of SSBs, refined grains and red and processed meats as a means of preventing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes,” explained Sylvia Ley, PhD, RD, lead author of “Contribution of the Nurses’ Health Studies to Uncovering Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes: Diet, Lifestyle, Biomarkers, and Genetics.” Still, “translating scientific evidence into practice requires fundamental changes in public policies, the food industry, built environments, and health care systems.”

For more about this issue and the latest public health research, visit the American Journal of Public Health online.