WHI logo
WHI logo

 NHLBI launched the WHI in 1991 to study the causes and prevention of heart disease, cancer, and other serious conditions. In the decades since, the WHI has helped NHLBI make strides in research on aging and heart health. The WHI has collected data from over 161,000 postmenopausal women from diverse backgrounds across the United States. Among the WHI participants is Barbara Dewey, who joined the WHI in 1993 as part of its first wave of recruitment. Now, at 92, she’s amazed at the study’s impact on public health. 

Fast Facts: The WHI has three arms: (1) Clinical trials to study health effects of low-fat dietary modifications, hormone therapies, and calcium and Vitamin D supplements. These clinical trials are now complete, and the WHI has started an extension study to monitor the health of over 93,000 original participants. (2) An observational study to track medical histories or changes in health that might point to health problems. (3) A community prevention study to create programs that encourage women to eat healthy, exercise, and stop smoking. 

 

Barbara Dewey
Barbara Dewey

Sweet Inspiration. Barbara Dewey said she’s always proud to tell people that she is part of the WHI studies. For her, participating in the WHI means contributing data that will help guide and grow NHLBI research, especially around heart health. She hopes her 30-year participation makes a practical impact on the lives of others. “It could help people become more aware of healthy behaviors like reading labels and learning about nutrition so that [fewer] people die of heart disease,” she said. 

Big Impact. WHI findings have made an extraordinary impact on women’s health recommendations. For example, the dietary modification trial is the reason we know a low-fat diet does not significantly lessen the risk of heart disease, breast cancer, stroke, or colon cancer. Barbara credits the study for making her and her family healthier. “The study got me cooking with provided recipes that helped us eat a balanced diet,” she said. “My children and grandchildren are all healthy, too. They’re real crusaders for staying food conscious.” Barbara was also part of the hormone therapy trial that ended in 2002. The trial found that hormone therapy after menopause might increase the risk of heart disease. Because of that discovery, the trial helped save women and health facilities an estimated $35.2 billion in medical expenses by 2014. It also led to 76,000 fewer cases of heart disease in women. 

Bright Future. The WHI is optimistic that its funding will continue past the current 2028 contract period, allowing it to uncover new findings through ancillary studies. Several NHLBI programs are using WHI data in hopes of making new scientific breakthroughs. For example, NHLBI’s Trans-Omics for Precision Medicine (TOPMed) program uses the data to study genetic differences related to heart, lung, blood, and sleep health. 

To learn more about the NHLBI’s epidemiological population studies, visit the NHLBI website.