At the heart of Project Big Life are algorithms that predict the risk of developing diseases, dying, or using health care. There are three types of predictions at Project Big Life:
- Risk of developing diseases and life expectancy
- Risk of dying if you are near the end of your life
- Diet quality
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Life Expectancy Calculator
"Unhealthy behaviours place a major burden on Canadian life expectancies," said lead author Dr. Doug Manuel, senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at The University of Ottawa, and a senior core scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES). "This study identified which behaviours pose the biggest threat."
Manuel’s team created the life-expectancy calculator as part of a 2012 report that found six out of 10 deaths in Ontario are linked to five controllable habits: smoking, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, unhealthy eating and stress.
Nearly all Ontarians have at least one of these five unhealthy behaviours. If each Ontarian addressed at least one of these habits, the average life expectancy would increase by up to 3.7 years, Manuel concluded.
Heart Attack and Stroke Calculator
"People are interested in healthy living, but we don't often have that discussion in the doctor's office," says Dr. Manuel. "Doctors will check your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, but they don't necessarily ask about lifestyle factors that could put you at risk for a heart attack and stroke. We hope this tool can help people—and their care team—obtain better information about healthy living and options for reducing their risk of heart attack and stroke."
Cardiovascular disease, a group of conditions that include heart attack and stroke, is the number 1 killer in Canada. While risk calculators already exist, they usually focus on factors that require medical tests, like blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Based on survey data from over 100,000 Canadians, the calculator lets individuals accurately predict their risk of hospitalization or death due to cardiovascular disease within the next five years. For example, if their risk is 5%, it means that five in 100 people like them will experience a serious cardiovascular event in the next five years. The calculator also provides heart age, an easy-to-understand measure of how healthy the heart is.
Factors in the Cardiovascular Disease Population Risk Tool (CVDPoRT) calculator include:
- Smoking status and lifetime exposure
- Alcohol consumption
- Physical activity
- Sense of belonging
- Immigration status
- Socioeconomic status of the neighbourhood
- High blood pressure
RESPECT (Elder Life) Calculator
“When I asked the neurologist [at the time of] diagnosis… are we looking at one year, five years, ten years?... He couldn’t tell me. My mom’s been sick my whole life and that’s the first time that someone’s ever given me a predict[ion].” – Focus Group participant
RESPECT is short for Risk Evaluation for Support: Predictions for Elder-life in the Community Tool for the End of Life. RESPECT End-of-Life will be the first of a suite of tools that the team will develop for older people needing supports in their homes. Technically, it is a predictive algorithm that calculates your survival (that is, how long you will live) based on five to 25 questions you answer such as what diseases you have and how difficult it is to care for yourself.
Part of the challenge is talking about when a person will die. Dr. Amy Hsu, along with their colleagues from research institutions across Canada, have developed a web-based tool – the RESPECT End-of-Life calculator – specifically for this need. They are now refining and evaluating the tool before public release in Canada. This calculator identifies when a person may be nearing the end of life and provides information that helps to determine their care needs.
On average, Canadians consume 3,400 mg of salt every day, which is more than two times the recommended amount. Too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure and is a major factor for stroke, heart disease and kidney disease. High sodium intake has also been linked to an increased risk of osteoporosis, stomach cancer and severe asthma.
The salt calculator allows Ontarians to track how much salt they are eating and identify the main sources of sodium in their diet. The calculator, among the first of its kind in North America, was developed by analyzing the sodium levels of more than 20,000 grocery and restaurant foods and is based on Canadian eating patterns aand the most up-to-date data on sodium levels.
The calculator asks questions such as:
- How often do you eat out?
- Where do you eat out (fast food, table service, or fine-dining restaurants)?
- How often and how much do you eat per day, week, or month?
- What types of food do you eat (bread, pre-packaged food, cheese, etc.)?
Dr. JoAnne Arcand, a nutritional scientist at Ontario Tech University created the sodium calculator with other colloborators on Project Big Life.
Over 50 million people worldwide have dementia, which is expected to grow to 150 million by 2050. Research suggests that a large proportion of these dementia cases may be attributable to things we can change about our daily lives, like smoking, physical inactivity and stress.
The Dementia Calculator is a web-based tool designed to help community-dwelling adults 55 years of age and older better understand their brain health and the things they can do to reduce their risk of developing dementia. The calculator asks questions about you (including your age, marital status, education and ethnicity), your lifestyle behaviours (including smoking, alcohol consumption, diet and physical activity), your general health (including stress, sense of belonging and presence of health conditions) and your physical functioning. Using the answers, the calculator estimates your brain age, a measure of how healthy your brain is, and predicts your risk of being diagnosed with dementia in the next five years. The calculator also makes recommendations about what you can do to improve your brain health and reduce your risk of developing dementia.
For more information on dementia resources, please visit: www.projectbiglife.ca/dementia-resources
Chronic Kidney Disease Calculator
Chronic kidney disease (or CKD for short) is a condition caused by damage to the kidneys, leading them to not filter blood as well as they should. It affects 8-16% of adults globally, and early stages are hard to detect because it may have no symptoms. If left untreated, it is associated with conditions such as heart disease, kidney failure, and increased chances of having a stroke or heart attack. Because of this, it is difficult to identify CKD in early enough stages to prevent further damage.
The CKD calculator is a web based tool designed to spread awareness and help people improve their health behaviours as they relate to CKD. The calculator is based on survey data from over 20,000 Canadians, and asks general questions about a person’s health and behaviours to determine a score that describes a person’s risk of developing CKD in the next 8 years.
Dietary Pattern Calculator
Improving the healthfulness of diets is vital to reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases and premature death in Canada. Research has found strong associations between dietary patterns and health outcomes. Dietary patterns consider many aspects of food and beverage consumption to determine how intakes affect disease risk (e.g.,proportions, quantities, variety, combinations, frequency).
The dietary pattern calculator allows Canadians to assess their diet quality based on intakes of 9 food groups that characterize healthy dietary patterns in Canada. Results include immediate and personalized dietary scores and feedback on dietary strengths and areas for improvement. The public can use the dietary pattern calculator for personal decision-making, and healthcare providers can use it to obtain evidence-basedreal-time outputs of patient diet quality, risk of disease, and individualized suggestions.
Dr. Mahsa Jessri, a nutritional scientist at the University of British Columbia created the dietary pattern calculator with other collaborators on Project Big Life.