Apple Women’s Health Study celebrates first anniversary

A woman sits on a couch in her living room, looking at her phone and drinking a cup of coffee.
Participants nationwide have contributed to women’s health research through the Apple Women’s Health Study.

This month marks the first anniversary of the launch of the revolutionary Apple Women’s Health Study. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health along with Apple and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) are working to gain a deeper understanding of how demographic and lifestyle factors could have an impact on menstrual cycles and gynecologic conditions including infertility, menopause, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Shruthi Mahalingaiah, one of the study’s principal investigators and assistant professor of environmental, reproductive, and women’s health at the Harvard Chan School, says, “There is a great need to understand menstrual cycle variation not only in the numerical context, for example the number of days between cycles, but also in how women experience their cycles. This way, we can better serve them, both physically and emotionally, and understand how to diagnose conditions earlier.”

Women comprise around half of the world’s population. However, research on the overall health needs of women is underrepresented. The Apple Women’s Health Study is novel because of its scope and scale – longitudinal nature, geographic reach and representation of the U.S. population as participants come from every state and Puerto Rico.

“The Apple Women’s Health Study amplifies so many different voices through the largest gender inclusive study on menstrual health. These voices are all contributing to telling a comprehensive story about menstrual and reproductive health,” says Mahalingaiah. “During the Apple Women’s Health Study’s first year, we’ve seen a unique shift in behaviors and lifestyle as a result of the pandemic and we’re looking forward to sharing these insights soon.”

Period tracking allows users to log details about their menstrual cycle, including period dates, blood flow, and symptoms such as headaches or cramps. Not only can tracking help personal cycle management and well-being, but this data at a population-level can help to design prevention methods and treatments to keep women healthy for as long as possible across their lives.

“This study is an opportunity for individuals to participate, no matter where they are in the U.S., and to contribute valuable data that could change the way women’s health conditions are treated in the future,” says Jukka-Pekka Onnela, associate professor of biostatistics at Harvard Chan School and co-investigator on the study.

The Apple Women’s Health Study empowers women to help advance health-related discovery from the comfort of their own home. The study will also help researchers understand how lifestyle changes related to COVID-19 impact overall women’s health and well-being.

The study’s multi-disciplinary team of principal investigators from Harvard Chan School includes: Michelle A. Williams, reproductive epidemiologist and dean of the faculty; Brent Coull, professor of biostatistics and associate chair of the Department of Biostatistics; and Russ Hauser, Frederick Lee Hisaw Professor of Reproductive Physiology, chair of the Department of Environmental Health, and professor of environmental and occupational epidemiology.

Persons over the age of 18 who have menstruated once in their life are encouraged to join the ongoing Apple Women’s Health Study, which is envisioned to span decades.