If you’ve ever wondered if there is a relationship between a disease and human behaviours or environmental exposures, the PURE study is probably looking for evidence of those same links.
PURE — the Prospective Urban and Rural Epidemiological study — is a large international cohort study that has followed the health of 200,000 adults for over a decade.
Cardiologists Darryl Leong, Sonia Anand, and Philip Joseph from the Population Health Research Institute are amongst the researchers leading the study.
“We’re able to look at the relationship between what they were like, and what their characteristics were 10 years ago, and what subsequently happened to them,” says Leong.
“Most notably, whether they’ve died, or if they haven’t died whether they’ve contracted illnesses, and if so what type of illnesses.”
There’s an incredibly complex set of influences to untangle, especially because there is so much overlap and interplay of factors.
“Some of the key areas we’ve focused on so far have been understanding the relationship between dietary intake and chronic disease, healthcare utilization and chronic disease, gender differences, air pollution — you name it,” adds Anand.
“If there’s an exposure or health behaviour, and you’re wondering, does that cause cancer or heart disease, likely the PURE study is investigating it.”
But it’s not just negative influences that the team is interested in. There are also behaviours that can help reduce the risk of disease.
“An important finding from the PURE study is the importance of education as a modifiable risk factor for health,” says Joseph.
“When we looked at all the countries that we studied together, (low) education was the largest risk factor for death, and one of the larger risk factors for cardiovascular disease.”
There are also important insights that can be made on a national level. PURE has found evidence that cancer is becoming the leading cause of death, both in wealthy and middle income countries.
“We expect that if lower income countries eventually follow the patterns that we see in higher income countries, we could expect within a generation for cancer to be the biggest cause of death worldwide,” says Leong.
By understanding the root causes of diseases like cancer, the hope is that we can change the trajectory we’re on and improve human health worldwide.
“We need to continue efforts to understand why people get sick, why people die, what constitutes good quality life, and how we can deliver that to people,” says Leong.
“This is something that I feel very passionate that I wanted to continue on.”