Thinking big

The Stanford Prevention Research Center

How’s this for a goal: Increase human wellness around the world. Doable? It’s a tall order, but the group taking on this challenge, the Stanford Prevention Research Center, has a history of success helping large groups of people overcome large problems. And now it’s the home of the Wellness Living Laboratory project, which aims to build the evidence base of wellness and test ways to support it globally.

The center, founded in the 1970s, has its roots in a massive effort to reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The founder, John Farquhar, MD, now professor emeritus of medicine and of health research and policy, led the landmark study that assessed the use of media campaigns to reduce heart disease risk in two California towns, Monterey and Salinas. (They were successful.)

The center’s research now integrates many disciplines, including behavioral science, epidemiology and health education. Its current leader, John Ioannidis, MD, DSc, focuses on evaluating the validity of scientific studies and finding ways to optimize research practices. Ioannidis is the ​C. F. Rehnborg Professor in Disease Prevention and a professor of medicine and of health research and policy.

Among the center’s pioneering efforts:
• Establishing the role of exercise, nutrition and cholesterol levels in heart disease
• Testing the effectiveness of nicotine replacement in treating nicotine addiction
• Examining the influence of social and cultural factors on health
• Analyzing methods for preventing eating disorders and obesity in adolescents

Today, the center’s investigators continue to focus on finding ways to solve problems affecting large populations and to test potential solutions. Their studies include projects on motivating healthy food choices, preventing sexual assault, ending nicotine addiction, increasing physical activity and reducing such chronic diseases as heart disease, breast cancer, osteoporosis and dementia. The center also runs an evidence-based health promotion program for Stanford staff and faculty that provides expertise to outside organizations.

So, boosting wellness worldwide? It just might be feasible.

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Rosanne Spector

Rosanne Spector is the editor of Stanford Medicine magazine in the Office of Communications. Email her at

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