The science of large numbers  pg. 2

“I was involved in the Iowa Women’s Health Study and wrote a paper focusing on tea consumption and cancer risk. Most studies look at what is bad about diet. I thought, ‘We need to focus on what is good about diets to help protect against cancer.’”

"When you start getting up in numbers of people with a particular type of cancer that approaches 1,000, that gives you pretty good power to start looking at environmental and genetic factors."  Williams Blot, Ph.D., Principal Investigator, Southern Community Cohort Study
Photo by Anne Rayner
Zheng presented a paper at an annual meeting of cancer research where he noticed tremendous interest in research focusing on protective foods - not just tea, but soy foods, fruits and vegetables.

“I thought, ‘We have done all these things to identify risk factors. How about identifying protective factors?’ So I came home and developed the proposal to focus on dietary protective factors, and the NIH funded it right away.”

So far the study has recruited approximately 75,000 women between the ages of 40 and 70 in seven typical communities in Shanghai.

“With an epidemiological study, we want to recruit a large number of participants in order to have an adequate power to evaluate study hypotheses,” he says. “In other words, the more participants we have, the more confident we have about our research findings.”

While working with her husband on this study, Shu realized that more could be gained than simply studying women. In 2001, she launched the Shanghai Men’s Health Study. To date, 60,000 men have been enrolled, half of whom are married to participants in the women’s cohort.

“First, we did a small pilot study and discovered that the husbands’ and wives’ dietary habits are very different, although they share same living environment,” Shu says. “For instance, men like to eat more meat compared to the women.”

Most women in China also work outside of the home. “So there is an opportunity to look at environmental and occupational factors as well.”

One goal of the Shanghai and Southern Community cohort studies is to determine whether differences in traditional Asian and Western diets account for widely varying incidences of different cancers among residents of China and the United States.

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