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Health ABC Study

A diverse group of African American and white older adults smiling and looking happy.

The Health, Aging and Body Composition Study (Health ABC) is an interdisciplinary study focused on risk factors for functional decline in older adults.  Researchers interested in using data from the study are invited to submit a proposal for consideration.

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About Health ABC

Health ABC is an interdisciplinary study on risk factors for functional decline, with a focus on changes in body composition among healthy older adults. The study was designed to address differences in onset of functional limitation, disability, and longevity between older men and women, as well as between Blacks and Whites. 

While the study is no longer recruiting participants, it can be used as a resource to investigate the relationship between body composition and age-related diseases and disability.

Explore the Health ABC Exam Measures

Research Conducted with Health ABC Data

Numerous papers using Health ABC data have been published. View a list of published papers conducted with Health ABC data.

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Study Design

The Health ABC Study began in 1997 and collected data for 17 years on a cohort of older Black and White adults living in Memphis and Pittsburgh. The study cohort included 3,075 men and women, aged 70-79 at baseline; 45 percent of the women and 33 percent of the men are African American. At baseline, participants had to report being free of difficulty walking one-quarter of a mile or climbing 10 steps. The major outcome was persistent difficulty performing either activity over two consecutive six-month follow-up assessments. For six years, participants received clinical and phone calls every six months. After six years, semi-annual telephone interviews were conducted and additional exams took place at years eight and 10.

The study was conducted by the Intramural Research Program of the NIA, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis with the University of California, San Francisco as the coordinating unit. Several substudies were supported by grants to individual researchers, other NIH Institutes, and the CDC.

Data Collection

Data were collected using questionnaires, diagnostic tests and screenings, biological samples and included the following: 

  • Genetic data; 
  • Imaging of bone, muscle, and brain through x-ray, DXA, CT, and MRI; 
  • Level of physical activity obtained via questionnaire and accelerometry testing; 
  • Blood biospecimens; 
  • Cognitive test performance;
  • Physical performance and functional testing; and 
  • Energy expenditure measured by doubly labeled water. 

Investigators also collected data on major health events including cancers, fractures, dementia, cardiovascular events, diabetes, and other illnesses related to hospitalizations and medical expenditures.

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Request Access Health ABC Data

Researchers interested in exploring whether Health ABC data may be a good fit for their research needs may submit an email to request the data codebooks and methods. 

Investigators interested in accessing and using Health ABC data or obtaining DNA or other specimens must submit a proposal.

How to Submit a Proposal

Proposals will be accepted via email to With your proposal, you must include the following information:

  • The name of the first author. If the first author is not affiliated with the study, then a sponsoring Health ABC investigator should also be listed.
  • Provisional list of potential co-authors.
  • Statement of the research question(s) or hypothesis.
  • Brief background and rationale for addressing the research question or hypothesis in Health ABC.
  • Variables to be used in the analysis, including the main predictor and outcome variables.
  • Mock-up of key tables.
  • Timeline for completion and submission of the paper.
  • Deadlines for submission of abstracts or dates of presentation and meeting (if applicable).
  • Unit that will be responsible for analyzing the data.

By emailing your proposal, you are agreeing to all the requirements outlined in the Health ABC Data Use Requirements section listed above. If the objective and/or methods of your analysis change after it is approved, an updated proposal should be submitted to a Health ABC sponsor. Each approved proposal should cover one project or publication. Multiple analyses should be supported by multiple specific proposals. An approved proposal is valid for one year and can only be renewed by writing to your Health ABC sponsor.

Health ABC Data Use Requirements

To use Health ABC data, you must submit a proposal via email and agree to the following requirements:

  • Any publication that includes analyses of the Health ABC project database should include a Health ABC investigator as a sponsor. Sponsors are primarily principal investigators from the original study, and have extensive experience with the study design, data collection, previous analyses, and submitting analysis proposals. These individuals will be listed as authors only if they contribute substantially to the analysis and writing of the manuscript.
  • Authors should participate in the writing of the paper in accordance with the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors guidelines (N Engl J Med 1991;324:424-8).
  • Authors should acknowledge Health ABC as their data source, use the official name of the study “Health, Aging, and Body Composition Study,” and list the following information regarding the NIA contract and grant numbers as an Acknowledgement:
    • This research was supported by National Institute on Aging (NIA) Contracts N01-AG-6-2101; N01-AG-6-2103; N01-AG-6-2106; NIA grant R01-AG028050, and NINR grant R01-NR012459. This research was funded in part by the Intramural Research Program of the NIH, National Institute on Aging.
  • Affirmation that you will seek and receive approval from NIA prior to starting the analysis. 
  • Agreement that you will obtain permission from NIA before reporting data from the Health ABC project in scientific papers or public presentations. Specifically, any data must have an approved pre-analysis plan, be reviewed by co-authors, and receive clearance from NIA prior to publication. 
  • Upon request, you agree to submit the code used to perform your analysis to the Health ABC steering committee to ensure results coming from this collaboration are scientifically and statistically correct.
  • Commitment not to share data from the Health ABC study with collaborators or deposit them in public domains without the explicit written permission of the Health ABC steering committee.

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Browse Health ABC sponsors and their research areas below.

  • Steven M. Albert, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences, University of Pittsburgh
    • Research area: Mental health, behavioral interventions, falls, end of life, disability
  • Tamara Harris, M.D., Senior Investigator and Chief Interdisciplinary Studies of Aging Section Laboratory of Epidemiology and Population Science, NIA. 
    • Research area: Aging, sarcopenia, muscle, frailty
  • Ann Schwartz, Ph.D., M.P.H., Associate Professor, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of California San Francisco
    • Research area: Diabetes, osteoporosis, DXA body composition
  • Kristine Yaffe, M.D., Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Neurology and Epidemiology & Biostatistics, University of California San Francisco
    • Research area: Geriatric neuropsychiatry, epidemiology of neuropsychiatric disorders among older adults including the epidemiology of cognitive aging and dementia, identification of novel factors that may lead to preventive strategies, with an emphasis on psychosocial and medical co-morbidities
  • Douglas Bauer, M.D., Professor, Department of Medicine and Epidemiology & Biostatistics, University of California San Francisco
    • Research area: Osteoporosis, thyroid dysfunctions, biomarker, pharmaco-epidemiology, University of California San Francisco
  • Michael Nevitt, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics, University of California San Francisco
    • Research area: Osteoarthritis
  • Gregory Tranah, Ph.D., Senior Scientist (CPMC-RI) and Adjunct Professor, University of California San Francisco
    • Research area: Genetics and aging
  • Steven Cummings, M.D., Professor, University of California San Francisco
    • Research area: Aging, sarcopenia, muscle, frailty
  • Anne Newman, M.D., M.P.H., Professor, Department of Epidemiology, Medicine and Clinical & Translational Science, University of Pittsburgh
    • Research area: Health aging, cardiovascular aging, pulmonary aging, kidney aging, sleep, physical function, performance testing, muscle strength and sarcopenia, endurance and long distance corridor walk, inflammation
  • Elsa Strotmeyer, Ph.D., M.P.H., Associate Professor of Epidemiology, University of Pittsburgh
    • Research area: Diabetes and glucose metabolism, peripheral nerve function, BMD/osteoporosis, physical function and performance, fall injuries, methods in aging and epidemiology
  • Peggy Cawthon, Ph.D., M.P.H., Senior Scientist (CPMC-RI) and Adjunct Associate Professor, University of California San Francisco
    • Research area: Sarcopenia, osteoporosis, disability, fracture
  • Stephen Kritchevsky, Ph.D., Professor of Internal Medicine and Translational Science, Wake Forest University
    • Research area: Nutrition, biomarkers, physical function, specialized knowledge in cancer, and pulmonary function measures
  • Eleanor M. Simonsick, Ph.D., Epidemiologist, Longitudinal Studies Section, Translational Gerontology Branch, NIA
    • Research area: Function and physical performance, cognition, depression, anxiety, literacy, social support, physical activity, health disparities, hearing, vision, fatigue
  • Jane Cauley, Dr.P.H., Professor - Department of Epidemiology, University of Pittsburgh
    • Research area: Osteoporosis, bone strength, fracture

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