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The 45 and Up Study: how Australia’s largest longitudinal study is reshaping our understanding of healthy ageing

Media release: 13 December 2022

Australia’s largest ongoing study of healthy ageing has reached an important milestone with over 15 years of high impact research showcased in a special issue of Public Health Research & Practice published today.

Managed by the Sax Institute, the 45 and Up Study has been following over 250,000 people aged over 45 years in NSW since 2005.  The study has made important contributions to our understanding of a wide range of key public health issues ranging from heart disease and physical activity to cancer and COVID-19. 

Papers in the themed issue of PHRP, a peer-reviewed journal of the Sax Institute, explore how the long-running study has impacted health policy and practice, and future opportunities it offers.

In a paper on how the Study has been used to explore healthy ageing in Australia, Professor Julie Byles of the University of Newcastle emphasises the value of being able to track key life transitions in the same group of people, to better understand the health issues that emerge at different ages. One surprising finding from the Study is that people become more active in retirement, which provides “an opportunity for individuals to change their lives and engineer a better future”.

Professor Byles says the value of the Study will only increase over time, as participants continue to age and further insights can be gleaned on what shapes their health outcomes – with one future use likely to be detailed comparisons between the health of people now in their 70s or 80s, compared with people the same age 10 and 20 years ago.

She writes that the broad age range of Study participants, and the ability to link their survey responses to routinely collected administrative data such as hospital admissions or deaths, “provides an almost complete capture of health events and aged care use” that is of high value to current and future researchers, which will be strengthened by the Study’s addition of genetic data collected through participants’ biological samples.

A paper by researchers from the Daffodil Centre at the University of Sydney highlights the Study’s importance in generating cancer research that has helped shape policy and management of disease. They use the example of lung cancer to show how Study data has been used to validate a tool for identifying who would benefit most from a targeted screening program in the future. Data from the Study has also been used to estimate cancer incidence and excess health costs associated with cancers, as well as how diagnosis and treatment can vary across different population groups.

Another paper focuses on the 45 and Up Study’s contributions to research in cardiovascular disease. The authors, from the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the Australian National University and Cancer Council NSW, show how the Study’s data has been used to reveal socioeconomic inequalities in heart disease as well as Australia-first findings on the effects of smoking across the population. The authors point to the key attributes that have enabled the success of the Study, including its large scale; the high quality of data; and the ability to link to administrative datasets.

Other papers in this edition look at:

In an editorial, Dr Martin McNamara, Chief Investigator of the 45 and Up Study and the Sax Institute’s incoming CEO, and Professor Karen Canfell, Director of the Daffodil Centre, University of Sydney, write that new opportunities to use data from the Study will continue to emerge.

“Mobilising data from the Study to measure the effects of policy change, service redesign and the piloting of new interventions holds considerable promise. There is also growing interest in applying machine learning and artificial intelligence methods to the Study data,” they write.

“As the cohort ages, there will continue to be opportunities to better understand the epidemiology of chronic disease and optimal strategies for prevention and management.”

This special issue of PHRP reflecting on the 45 and Up Study is published in memory of world-renowned epidemiologist Dame Valerie Beral (1946–2022), who played a vital role in establishing and supporting the Study. The 45 and Up Study is managed by the Sax Institute in collaboration with partners Cancer Council NSW, the Heart Foundation and NSW Ministry of Health.

Please acknowledge Public Health Research & Practice as the source for any stories.

The link to the themed issue on insights from the 45 and Up Study will be: This link or links to papers above can be included in news stories.

Media enquiries

Hugo Wilcken, Media Manager, Sax Institute
M: 0451 122 146  
E: [email protected]

Megan Howe, Editor, PHRP
M: 0404 466 526
E: [email protected]