The University of Southern California’s Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research recently announced a partnership with Evidation to integrate longitudinal health data from wearables into the Understanding America Study (UAS), through a study called American Life in Realtime (ALiR) — with the ultimate goal of generating insights into healthy aging, specifically with regard to cognition and neurodegenerative diseases.
The Understanding America Study is an ongoing research initiative with a nationally representative panel of over 13,000 participants, and explores a variety of themes including health, economic behavior, education, political identity, family life, and retirement. Evidation and USC will collaborate to integrate data from wearables into extensive survey data that has been collected as part of the study for almost two decades, with the ultimate goal of unearthing answers to key questions about lifespan and healthspan.
Tania Gutsche, Co-Director, Center for Economic and Social Research (CESR) and Ritika Chaturvedi, Director of ALiR and Research Scientist, Schaeffer Center from USC recently discussed their partnership with Evidation and the impacts of this major grant-funded initiative with Monika Jain, Director of Partnerships at Evidation.
Q: What are the goals for the Understanding America Study and this new wearables integration with Evidation?
Tania Gutsche: The goal of this grant is to understand the health impact of disparities over the course of one’s life — with a specific focus on cognitive health. We want to understand how individuals can age in a healthy way and decrease cognitive decline. We collect data looking at a variety of factors, things like differences in mental health and geography, as well as contextual and environmental sources of disparities such as pollution and physical activity, and how they are tied to cognition. The goal is to take a representative sample of adults in the United States and see just how deep we can go into these areas of study and identify even just one to two factors that may dramatically influence our outcomes.
Prior to this collaboration, we'd already been working with wearables on a smaller scale. To get wearables to more of our participants means our data will also become more representative of the U.S. population. This study will increase our ability to contribute to the science and research that supports people making informed decisions and researchers making policy suggestions.
Monika Jain, Evidation: We have over a decade of experience collecting this data, processing it, and curating it to make it usable for analysis. Evidation’s part of the collaboration is to serve as the technology partner that provides a critical platform and integration for engaging study participants with wearables that were provisioned by the grant and will be provided by UAS to more than 12,000 individuals. With the built-in capabilities and automation our platform provides, we are able to help UAS efficiently meet the long-term need of the program to provide wearable data from thousands of participants continuously for many years to come.
Q: What possibilities does this most recent collaborative partnership unlock?
Ritika Chaturvedi: Giving wearables to our participants means the sky’s the limit. You could imagine, for example, public health surveillance where with a wearables-connected cohort of 20,000 people, you could potentially pinpoint which communities are being affected by flu, or COVID, or even emerging infectious diseases as they happen. There’s also potential for disease prevention, disease prediction, disease screening, and healthy living with nudges to improve your day to day decision-making. The point is to make the data available at high quality, so that the researchers who specialize in developing each of these kinds of applications have a rich, equitable, and reliable dataset to support their work.
Tania Gutsche: Our collaboration also helps UAS continue to advance well into the future. Evidation is at the forefront of this type of data collection: they are excellent at engaging individuals longitudinally, and at scale, with wearables and surveys. This partnership allows for an unusually potent collaboration: two groups at the forefront of their fields, combining forces.
Monika Jain: Understanding America allows for incredible insights from the depth and breadth of population touch points. Recently, Ritika and I were discussing what it takes to engage a population with wearables for more than a year, the impacts of device durability, and the costs related to periodic device replacement. These methodological learnings can advance future digital health research studies, drawing from a large population and long time horizon.
Q: How does the wearables data specifically support and enrich this longitudinal data set?
Tania Gutsche: We know that people aren’t always accurate when reporting their activity levels, and that it can be burdensome to do it manually. How people define activity when they have sedentary jobs might not be the same way that someone who is in more regular motion. The goal of getting this data in some place where researchers can use it is to not only reduce respondent burden, but to actually learn what types of activity are really affecting cognitive and/or physical issues.
Ritika Chaturvedi: It’s also really hard for people to self-report their sleep, and with wearables we have continuous data on how people are sleeping, which is turning out to be an increasingly important factor for both cognitive and physical health. So reducing respondent burden - and capturing not only the detail in these measures but also that continuous longitudinal nature of these measures - can help us tease out impacts of short term versus long-term changes. So if you're really really exercising a lot for a week, but then you're sedentary for the rest of the month, what does that mean? Being able to have these kinds of temporal associations, which are really hard to get at from a self reported perspective, is a huge benefit here.
Q: How does this build on Evidation and USC’s previous work together?
Ritika Chaturvedi: Our work began in 2018 when Evidation team members and I co-wrote a grant for a pilot wearables study of 1,000 individuals. Monika was a part of securing that grant, which we quickly moved to Understanding America for a 1-year pilot run. We relied heavily on Evidation for its infrastructure expertise - specifically its platform, the wearables integration, the API, and the API ingestion software, as well as expertise around recruitment and participant engagement.
Being able to partner with Evidation essentially allayed our feasibility concerns both then and now. Even back then, they had such a strong track record of being able to pull off the studies, being able to recruit large scale cohorts, and being able to engage participants for long periods of time without losing participants and response rates over time. That kind of expertise made possible what would have probably would not have been possible otherwise.
To learn more about how Evidation helps advance direct-to-participant research, please visit: https://evidation.com/for-customers/academic-institutions.