Let’s Dream Big: Our Future Health - Collecting Our Population’s Big Data

25 September 23

written by:

Josie Robson

(more articles)

You may have heard of Our Future Health, a study that’s aiming to recruit up to five million people to develop new ways to prevent, detect and treat diseases. Fight for Sight is proud to be an affiliate of Our Future Health, meaning volunteer data can be used to help researchers develop a new understanding of eye diseases within our population. Steven Smith, a Grants manager at Fight for Sight, has decided to take part in the study. Although only the start of the journey, he shared his experiences of being involved so far…

How did you sign up to take part in our Future Health?

I was invited via a postal invite to take part in Our Future Health, but if you’d like to volunteer proactively, you can also sign up via the Our Future Health website.

Once registered, I was sent a comprehensive survey, including some information that was sensitive. That said, you can opt out of answering questions you deem too personal while still participating.

Despite not being the techiest of people, I had no problems filling out the survey and setting up my account on my smartphone. There is even the option of using face recognition to make security easy, which I thought was kind of neat.

Is it all done remotely?

No, once you’ve filled in the survey, you need to book some in-person visits. There were a few different locations that I was able to choose between. My first short visit included taking a few measurements: my height; weight; blood pressure; cholesterol level; and waist circumference; and I gave a blood sample too. Each of these will provide the baseline data for all my future visits. 

What made you want to take part?

Steven: For me, the real appeal of being part of this study is two-fold,

a) I know the value of patient involvement: I’ve been active in research for most of my working life, first as a PhD Student in the lab and then in my capacity in the grant-giving process at Fight for Sight, so I know how valuable patient involvement is. It is great to actively help – in my own small way – to ensure that this huge and important study has equal representation across the population.

b) I was intrigued about my own health: Tests like the ones that form part of this study are useful in potentially flagging up health issues. I was especially pleased when I learned that I had a decent cholesterol level. I’ve never had it checked before, and I was concerned that the pandemic and consequent changes to diet and activity might put me at risk. Conversely, my blood pressure readings indicated I need to be more aware as I am close to being at risk, which is great to know in its own way.

Did you learn anything else?

Yes, apparently, many factors can influence the result of a blood pressure test, including things you eat or drink (especially caffeine) beforehand, but surprisingly talking throughout (I’m something of a chatter) also has an impact. 

How does it feel to be part of something so big and potentially impactful to society?

The UK has a proud history of being at the forefront of scientific discovery, especially when it comes to genetics. From the discovery of the double helix in the 1950s to playing a leading role in the Human Genome Project in the early 2000s, and of course, the recent UK initiative known as the 100,000 Genomes Project, so innovation often stems from here!

See 5 research breakthroughs we're funding that owe a debt to the human genome project

Our Future Health is yet another example of an ambitious homegrown endeavour which has the potential to unlock countless avenues for scientific advances. It will provide a unique opportunity to gather longitudinal data, over a lifetime for some, on a large sample of the population.

How will your involvement directly help scientists?

The scientific community has long been calling out for something like Our Future Health to offer insights into long-spanning and often deteriorating conditions, such as vision loss.

The collection of ‘big data’ is one of the next steps in human evolution, so in a way, this project is way ahead of its time! It may be daunting to consider being part of this study if the subject of data sharing makes you anxious, but the potential return is both exciting and of enormous potential value for all of us.

Personally, I am really proud to be one of the many, many volunteers involved – and I absolutely love the fact it is mutually beneficial. Put simply, I get to keep track of my own health through my life, while helping society as a whole while I do.

If you’d like to take part in Our Future Health, you can apply to do so here: via the Our Future Health website

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