Researchers will enroll up to 10,000 participants throughout New Jersey, with a focus on minority and low-income individuals and diverse immigrant groups, as well as factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Rutgers Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research has received $10 million in funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Rutgers University to support the New Jersey Population Health Cohort Study – the largest study to date to explore factors that influence health and well-being in New Jersey.

New Jersey is one of the most diverse states in the nation and nearly a quarter of its residents are immigrants. While the state also ranks among the wealthiest, there are significant and persistent health disparities. The study aims to generate new data and insights to help improve health equity in the state.

“The Population Health Cohort Study will illustrate a deeper, more contextualized understanding of New Jersey’s health inequities and the ways in which specific groups experience them. This research represents a significant step in the journey towards a healthier, more equitable state where all of our diverse populations have greater opportunities to live healthy, prosperous lives,” said Maisha Simmons, Director of New Jersey Grantmaking at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Beginning in early 2021, the study will enroll up to 10,000 participants reflecting a broad cross-section of the state’s population, with an emphasis on minority and low-income communities, multigenerational families and immigrant groups, including: South Asian Indian, Chinese, Dominican, Filipino, Korean, Mexican, Nigerian, Afro-Caribbean and/or refugees/asylees. The Institute for Health is partnering with community organizations and key stakeholders to support engagement and participation in all aspects of the research process.

“It is critical to understand how experiences like immigration and family structures influence people differently, to inform policy and services and impact population health in New Jersey,” said XinQi Dong, director of the Institute for Health and lead investigator. “While many longitudinal studies look at individuals, it’s important to also look at the broader family and community context.”

The researchers plan to follow participants over time, focusing on factors such as trauma, stress, resilience and cognitive function and collecting survey responses, biometrics, blood samples and data on physical activity using wearable technology.

The study will focus on ways in which the stress and resilience experiences of the study participants, including factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic, impact their health and well-being.

“COVID-19 has added a new and deeply troubling burden on the well-being of communities already experiencing health disparities,” said Joel C. Cantor, co-lead investigator and director of the Center for State Health Policy at the Institute for Health. “Insights from the cohort study can help us answer questions like, how does living with multiple generations in the same house affect rates of coronavirus infection and the ability to manage stress from the pandemic? How are essential workers from minority communities coping with the pandemic?”

Of the total funding, $8 million over four years is being provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and $2 million in matching funds will come from Rutgers.

The first round of data collection is expected to be complete by 2024. Researchers also will be able to link the study data to other existing sources, such as health insurance and environmental data, to allow for further exploration of other factors in the future.

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