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Health ABC data now available through NIA website

Tamara HARRIS [Former NIA Staff],
Epidemiology & Pop Science Lab (EPSL).

We are excited to let you know that NIA has a resource for investigators seeking to analyze biomedical data. The Health, Aging and Body Composition (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. Participants were aged 70-79 at baseline. These data are now online on NIA’s website and available to qualified researchers. We invite you to take a look!

What is the Health ABC Study?

Health ABC is an interdisciplinary study focused on risk factors for functional decline in healthy older people. With a particular focus on change in body composition with age, 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.

I was very pleased to help lead the team in NIA’s intramural Laboratory of Epidemiology and Population Sciences that initiated and developed Health ABC. It was conducted through research contracts with the coordinating unit at University of California, San Francisco and the field centers at the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis. Supplemental funding for additional data collection and analysis was also provided to the main study and to individual researchers from NIA, other NIH Institutes, and CDC.

What kind of data are available?

The study cohort—recruited in 1997-98—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 or both of these activities over two consecutive six-month follow-up tests.

Health ABC collected information on health measures through questionnaires and diagnostic screening. The rich datasets include 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; many blood biospecimens; 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.

Who can use these data?

Any investigator is welcome to sign up on the website and peruse the data codebooks and methods. We strongly recommend that those investigators who want to use the Health ABC data for a research project collaborate with a Health ABC investigator (identified on the website). Our goal is to facilitate an easy, low-cost way for you to use the data in collaboration with Heath ABC research sponsors. For the most part, sponsors are principal investigators from the original study. They’re a great resource, because they have extensive experience with the study design, data collection, previous analyses, and submitting analysis proposals.

If you’re interested in using the data for a study, please refer to the Analysis Proposal and Publication Guidelines (PDF, 34K). All Health ABC analyses require the investigator to have IRB approval to use de-identified data.

The website has all the data codebooks, grids outlining the measures collected, original de-identified data (for approved proposals only), a list of publications using the data, and a list of research sponsors. The website provides clear guidelines on how to access and download data for analysis or obtain DNA or other specimens for further collaborative research with the original study investigators.

I hope that you’ll take a look at these data and come up with creative ideas about how you can use it.