The Nurses’ Health Study: Celebrating 40 years of vital contributions to public health

American Journal of Public Health September 2016 Nurses' Health Study IssueForty years, multiple cohorts, and 275 thousand participants and counting. The September issue of the American Journal of Public Health celebrates the substantial knowledge on nutrition and other aspects of chronic disease prevention generated by the historic Nurses’ Health Studies.

The Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) was launched in 1976 with over 121,700 nurse participants to examine the risk factors for major chronic diseases in women. In the 40 years since, the original cohort has grown to include multiple offshoots, including the NHS II, and the most recent NHS 3. An additional cohort called the Growing Up Today Study (GUTS) began in 1996 that includes the children of those enrolled in the NHS II.

Altogether, these prospective cohort studies have followed more than 275 thousand participants and supported many hundreds of publications, providing insight into women’s reproductive health, contraception, and breast cancer, as well as illuminating the role of diet, lifestyle, and genetics in chronic disease prevention. The NHS has retained an estimated 94 percent of the original study population, thanks to the unwavering support and commitment of its participants.

“In so many aspects of life, the Nurses’ Health Studies have provided evidence that allows individuals, health care providers, and policy makers to reach informed decisions,” said Walter Willett, MD, DrPH, who has helped lead this work since 1977. “This would have all been impossible without the amazing commitment of the participants, who have shared their personal information over the last four decades”

In celebration of its 40-year anniversary, much of the September 2016 issue of the American Journal of Public Health delves into the history of the NHS, and its significant contributions to public health. Explore the full issue or the open-access individual articles, highlighted below:

Overview Articles

  • 120 000 Nurses Who Shook Public Health
    • An editorial by AJPH Editor-in-Chief Dr. Alfredo Morabia, discussing the creation of the NHS, and the “historically outstanding response” from the study’s participating nurses.

Topic-Specific Articles

Chronic diseases:


Other diseases and insights:

Other longitudinal studies inspired and informed by NHS: