Embedding Mobile Health Technology into the Nurses' Health Study 3 to Study Behavioral Risk Factors for Cancer

Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2020 Apr;29(4):736-743. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-19-1386. Epub 2020 Feb 25.


Background: Physical activity and sleep are behavioral risk factors for cancer that may be influenced by environmental exposures, including built and natural environments. However, many studies in this area are limited by residence-based exposure assessment and/or self-reported, time-aggregated measures of behavior.

Methods: The Nurses' Health Study 3 (NHS3) Mobile Health Substudy is a pilot study of 500 participants in the prospective NHS3 cohort who use a smartphone application and a Fitbit for seven-day periods, four times over a year, to measure minute-level location, physical activity, heart rate, and sleep.

Results: We have collected data on 435 participants, comprising over 6 million participant-minutes of heart rate, step, sleep, and location. Over 90% of participants had five days of ≥600 minutes of Fitbit wear-time in their first sampling week, and this percentage dropped to 70% for weeks 2 to 4. Over 819 sampling weeks, we observed an average of 7,581 minutes of heart rate and step data [interquartile range (IQR): 6,651-9,645] per participant-week, and >2 million minutes of sleep in over 5,700 sleep bouts. We have recorded location data for 5,237 unique participant-days, averaging 104 location observations per participant-day (IQR: 103-107).

Conclusions: This study describes a protocol to incorporate mobile health technology into a nationwide prospective cohort to measure high-resolution objective data on environment and behavior.

Impact: This project could provide translational insights into interventions for urban planning to optimize opportunities for physical activity and healthy sleep patterns to reduce cancer risk.See all articles in this CEBP Focus section, "Modernizing Population Science."

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Data Collection / instrumentation*
  • Data Collection / methods
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Fitness Trackers
  • Humans
  • Internet-Based Intervention / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Mobile Applications / statistics & numerical data*
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Nurses / statistics & numerical data
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Report / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sleep
  • Smartphone
  • Telemedicine / instrumentation*
  • Telemedicine / methods