Frequently Asked Questions

Online Questionnaire


The Ontario Health Study (OHS) is an ongoing research study investigating risk factors that cause diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, asthma and Alzheimer’s. If you live in Ontario and are 18 or older, you can take part in the OHS by filling out a health-related questionnaire online (if you’re ready to sign up and start now, click here). Researchers will use this health information to study how our lifestyle, environment and family history affect our health over time and to develop strategies for the prevention, early detection and treatment of diseases. After you complete the questionnaire, you may be invited to take part in a number of programs including the Blood Collection Program, our Toronto Assessment Centre and occasional follow-up questionnaires on a range of health-related topics.

If you are a resident of Ontario who is 18 or older, you are invited to take part in the Ontario Health Study, regardless of whether you are healthy or have medical conditions.

What sets the Ontario Health Study apart from other studies is its potential to reach a large and diverse population residing in Ontario. With it being possible to follow the health of so many diverse people, the Study may detect new risk factors or combinations of risk factors and may be able to investigate many less common diseases. The ethnic and geographic diversity in Ontario also makes the province ideal for an investigation into a variety of risk factors for common diseases across different ethnic groups and environments. The OHS will be one of the first studies to collect data relevant to many diseases from a large-enough number of people to draw meaningful conclusions. The Ontario Health Study is part of the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project, a landmark study whose goal is to recruit and follow the health of 300,000 Canadians in five regions across the country.

Also making the Ontario Health Study unique is that it takes advantage of the many research resources existing in Ontario, including world-leading medical research in many areas. For example, when you give us your permission to link to your administrative data, we are able to link to many valuable sources of information that are unique to Ontario, such as the Ontario Cancer Registry. Some of the best-linked health data in the world – collected for routine administrative purposes – exists in Ontario.

Diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes are the primary causes of death in Canadian adults and treating these and other illnesses costs the Canadian health care system billions of dollars annually. Additionally, we are starting to see the onset of diseases in younger populations. The Ontario Health Study will try to discover which factors increase the risk of developing various diseases, as well as what can be done to reduce the chance of developing them. These risk factors may include where people live and work, what they eat, how much they exercise, whether they smoke and other factors that have not yet been identified.

Findings from other long-term studies have already helped improve health care for all of us. This is your chance to help make a difference to the health of future generations. Also, by participating in the Ontario Health Study, you will be part of a broader, pan-Canadian initiative as the OHS is part of the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project (CPTP). To learn more, visit CPTP’s website.

No. We have not contacted your doctor except to invite him or her to participate!

No. The Ontario Health Study is committed to protecting your privacy and confidentiality. We will not sell or give away your contact information, including your email address.

Though our primary method of staying in touch with you will be through email, we may also contact you via regular mail or phone. As technology changes over time, it is quite possible that we may develop new ways to contact you as well.

Summaries of findings from research studies will be published and made available on this website. Results from the Ontario Health Study will be published in such a way that confidentiality is maintained and that individual participants cannot be identified. This information will also be shared with participants through regular email newsletters.

Some results from the Ontario Health Study will be available within a few years. Other findings will come from following participants over a long period of time.

Some health concerns – such as high blood pressure – are common, but other health problems and some diseases are less common. To study these diseases, many participants are needed because a smaller number of people will develop them. Diseases such as heart disease, cancer, asthma and diabetes also have many causes – and each individual cause generally has a small effect that is hard to detect. As a result, large studies are needed to find the environmental, social or genetic factors that cause most diseases, as well as to study how these factors interact to increase or decrease our individual risk of disease.

The best way to conduct this type of research is to collect health information over long periods of time so that the development of disease can be tracked through time.

The OHS is funded by four agencies and government partners whose goals include conducting research to improve care and reduce the number of people who are diagnosed with common diseases. The goal of the Ontario Health Study is to investigate what causes diseases and to improve strategies for the prevention and treatment of these diseases.

The AIR MILES® incentive program expired on March 28th, 2013, and the Gift Card incentive program expired July 26, 2012.

As the Ontario Health Study is a long-term study that will go on for decades, it may not be possible to continue offering some form of small gift to participants. As the start-up phase is a crucial time in recruitment for a health study, we decided this was the most appropriate time to make this offer.

You will complete an online health questionnaire. Some of the things you will be asked about include physical measurements, such as your height, weight, waist and hip measurements, and your health history. On average, it takes about 40 minutes to complete the questionnaire. If you agree to be contacted again in the future, you will be sent additional health-related questionnaires.

Thousands of volunteers in other long-term studies have contributed to research results that have helped to develop strategies to prevent disease or to increase early detection and to make treatment more effective.

If you are ready to participate, please click “Sign Up” at the top of the page. If you feel you need more information than what is provided on this website, please call 1-866-606-0686 to speak with a member of our Study Team. Our call centre is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

No. The Ontario Health Study collects information for research purposes only. If you have a medical question, consult your family doctor or visit a walk-in clinic or medical care facility.

The Ontario Health Study will continue for a long time – at least several decades. During this time it is likely that many people will move. One of the most important challenges in a long-term study is keeping in touch with participants to collect up-to-date information. We will only contact your identified contact person and ask them to forward a message to you if we’ve exhausted all options for contacting you directly. Providing the names of two contacts is optional and will not affect your eligibility to participate. We do request that you ask for their permission to provide us with their contact information before doing so.

Since email addresses often change over time, your mailing address acts as a backup for the purpose of contacting you in the future.

You will be contacted annually to provide an update on your basic health. Once a year, you will be asked if you are interested in participating in another health research questionnaire (e.g., on your diet or physical activity). Participation in these follow-up questionnaires is completely voluntary.

Yes. We are interested in your family history, but more about you as an individual.

Yes. It’s important that participants reflect the wide range of health states found in today’s society.

The Ontario Health Study will be most effective if participants – who will be studied over time – represent a wide range of ages, ethnic backgrounds and states of health and disease.

Encouraging others to participate is important and would be greatly appreciated. The more people who take part, the better and more useful the Ontario Health Study will be. Please visit our Community page to find out how you can help spread the word about the OHS.

The purpose of the Assessment Centre is to collect information about many aspects of your health. Some of the things we will look at include your heart and lung function, your waist and hip size and your blood pressure and heart rate. During your visit, we will also ask you to provide blood and urine samples. While this is optional, providing these samples will enrich the research potential of the Study.

The questionnaire takes about 40 minutes to complete (on average). That time is dependent on the amount of personal and family health information that you have to enter.

Once you begin your questionnaire, you will have six weeks to complete it before your session expires.

Yes. You may stop and start your questionnaire as many times as needed within six weeks of registration. You will not lose any information and will be returned automatically to the last question you completed when you log back in.

No. Once you register, you must complete the questionnaire within six weeks. During this six-week period, you will receive up to three reminder emails. After six weeks, your questionnaire will be closed and it cannot be re-opened.

Once you have consented to participation in the Ontario Health Study, the information that you have provided will be retained unless you withdraw from the Study.

An instructional video is available to help guide you through the username/password recovery process. Please click here to access this video. If you have forgotten both your username and password, you must recover your username first.   

To recover your username, please follow the steps below:

  1. Go to the log-in page on the OHS website by clicking here;
  2. Click on the blue text that says “Forgot your username?”;
  3. Enter the letters you see in the spam guard (please note that these are not case sensitive and there are NO spaces) and then select “Enter”;
  4. Enter the email address you used to register for the Study;
  5. Enter your date of birth using the format of mm-dd-yyyy;
  6. Click on “Send me my Username”;
  7. Your username will be sent to you via email.

If you are unable to recover your username using the “Forgot your username?” button on the log-in page,   please contact the OHS at 1-866-606-0686 or info@ontariohealthstudy.ca for assistance.   Our call centre is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

An instructional video is available to help guide you through the username/password recovery process. Please click here to access this video. If you have forgotten both your username and password, you must recover your username first.   

To reset your password, please follow the steps below:

A. Password reset via email:

  1. Go to the log-in page on the OHS website by clicking here;
  2. Enter your username, and then click on the blue text that says “Forgot your password?”;
  3. A window will appear asking you to choose the method for resetting your password. Choose the first option, “Click here to reset your password via email”;
  4. Enter the letters you see in the spam guard (please note that these are not case sensitive and there are NO spaces) and then select “Enter”;
  5. Complete the requested fields (username, email address, date of birth, and last name) and click on the “Send me my password reset email”;
  6. Open the email sent to your email inbox and click on the link to reset your password. Please note that the link is only active for 30 minutes;
  7. Create a new password that is a minimum of 8 and a maximum of 12 characters, and includes at least one uppercase letter, lowercase letter, number, and special character (e.g., @,!,*);
  8. Once you have confirmed your new password, click on “Apply”. You will now be sent back to the log-in page. Please enter your username and new password to log in.

B. Password reset through security questions:

  1. Go to the log-in page on the OHS website by clicking here;
  2. Enter your username, and then click on the blue text that says “Forgot your password?”;
  3. A window will appear asking you to choose the method for resetting your password. Choose the second option, “Click here to reset your password using security questions”;
  4. Enter the letters you see in the spam guard (please note that these are not case sensitive and there are no spaces) and then select “Enter”;
  5. Complete the security question(s) and click on “OK”;
  6. Create a new password that is a minimum of 8 and a maximum of 12 characters, and includes at least one uppercase letter, lowercase letter, number, and special character (e.g., @,!,*);
  7. Once you have confirmed your new password, click on “Apply”. You will now be sent back to the log-in page. Please enter your username and new password to log in.

As an online study, our communication is achieved primarily via email, and for privacy purposes, each participant should have his/her own email address.

However, accounts created using a shared email address prior to August 29, 2013 remain valid and may be accessed using the unique username associated with the account.

If you encounter any difficulties, please contact the OHS at 1-866-606-0686 or info@ontariohealthstudy.ca for assistance.   Our call centre is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

If you experience technical difficulties while completing the questionnaire, please contact our call centre at 1-866-606-0686 or send an email to info@OntarioHealthStudy.ca. Our call centre is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Please contact our call centre at 1-866-606-0686 or email us at info@OntarioHealthStudy.ca and a member of the Ontario Health Study team will be happy to assist you. Our call centre is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and we respond to emails as soon as possible.

Most public libraries and community centres offer computers with internet access. However, you should take extra precautions when using a public computer. The following websites will help you learn more about online security: Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Public Safety Canada, Microsoft, Apple and Stay Safe Online.

Respond truthfully. When you complete annual follow-up questionnaires over time, the overall state of your lifestyle will be captured.

Reporting on a previous seven-day period is a standardized measure. While the past week may not reflect your average level of physical activity, we will ask you this question once per year and over time a more general picture of your physical activity level will be obtained.

We focus on the health of your more immediate family members, e.g., parents and siblings, as their health history is most important in determining your risk factors. We may ask for a more extended family medical history in the future.

We may enquire about surgeries and injuries in follow-up questionnaires.

No. Only melanoma, including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, should be reported.

Your answers should reflect your current state of health. The questionnaire asks if you are pregnant, so researchers will be aware that your answers are not representative of your usual physical state. If you are pregnant, we ask about the state of your health before you became pregnant as well. Your ongoing, general state of health will be captured in follow-up questionnaires.

Currently, we are focusing on chronic diseases with which your family members have been diagnosed. We may ask for these additional details in a future questionnaire.

Ultimately, we are interested in every disease and would find information about other conditions and diseases to be informative. However, in order to keep this first questionnaire a reasonable length, we focused our questions on the diseases that are most common or have the greatest impact on our current health care system.

A “food frequency questionnaire” is one of the follow-up questionnaires we plan to undertake. It will ask for detailed information about your diet, including the vitamins and supplements you are taking.

Drug use and addiction are very important topics that will be addressed in one of our follow-up questionnaires.

Please choose the option you feel best reflects your current situation.

Please select the option you feel best reflects your current situation.

Your answer to this question should reflect how you currently self-identify.

No. However you will receive a follow-up questionnaire asking for an update of your health and you can provide the correct response(s) at that time.

Some of the topics we expect to cover in follow-up questionnaires include mental health, diet and physical activity, stress levels, information about your work environment and lifestyle, and the walkability of your neighbourhood.

The security and confidentiality of your personal health information is very important to us. We have put in place strict security measures, which include sophisticated computer controls and highly secure access systems. The main methods we use to protect your confidentiality are:

1. Your information is stored with all identifying information removed (“de-identified”) – this means any information that can identify you, such as your name and address, date of birth or Health card number is removed from your data and stored separately.

2. All Information is password-protected and encrypted. In order to contact you and to link to your administrative and medical records, we need to be able to identify your information. We do this using a code. Only a limited number of Ontario Health Study staff with access to the code will be able to connect you with any of your information.

3. Access is kept to a minimum. Only a small number of staff members who have signed confidentiality agreements have access to the key code and they only access it for necessary operational purposes. The computers that hold your information are protected by the same kind of encryption technology that is used by banks to protect their customers’ online banking transactions.

Definitely. While we do everything we can, protecting your information is a joint effort. Some basic online safety tips include never divulging your OHS log-in password and shutting down your internet browser after completing an OHS questionnaire or updating your account information. The following are some useful websites for learning more about online safety: Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Public Safety Canada, Microsoft, Apple and Stay Safe Online.

All the information you provide is encrypted to ensure that your data remains confidential. This protection exists at all points between your web browser and the database files where your data is stored. Furthermore, identifiable information such as your name is placed in an isolated database separate from your questionnaire responses. At regularly scheduled intervals, your de-identified questionnaire responses are exported to another database for research and reporting purposes. All physical systems are hosted at a secure data centre in the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. Due to the importance of the information collected by the OHS, we make back-up copies of the information in our databases on a regular basis. Certain third-party organizations have been hired by the OHS to store these copies or transport Study information, but this information is encrypted and they cannot see or use it.

Ontario Health Study/Ontario Institute for Cancer (OICR) staff: A limited number of staff members from the Ontario Health Study and the OICR IT department will have access to your personal information.

Researchers: The Ontario Health Study expects to receive requests from researchers in Canada and other countries to access the Study’s data. All requests must pass a strict scientific and ethical review and receive approval before any data will be shared with a researcher. The data collected from you will only be disclosed to researchers once all information that directly identifies you has been removed. Researchers who are given access to the Ontario Health Study must sign a Data Access Agreement to ensure that no attempt is made to re-identify participants.

Researchers who have received approval for a research study may wish to collect information from you that has not been collected as part of the Ontario Health Study. If this occurs, you will be contacted by the Ontario Health Study regarding the request. You have the option to participate in the research study or to refuse. A list of approved studies will be maintained on the OHS website for your information.

Research Ethics Board: The Research Ethics Board has the right to review Study data in order to ensure that the Ontario Health Study is following proper procedures.

You do not have to provide your Health card number in order to participate in the Ontario Health Study. However, we ask you to give it to us so we can link the information you provide to the OHS to your routinely collected administrative/medical data and your health records. For example, every time you undergo certain tests (e.g., a mammogram), the fact that you had this test is noted and stored in a database. This is referred to as “administrative data.” By linking the information you provide to the OHS with administrative data, researchers are able to ask a broader range of questions, such as whether screening programs are effective and whether there are “hot spots” across the province where a certain disease is more common. Since data linkage involves linking information about the same person from multiple sources, it is important to make sure that the information being linked is about the same person. Your Health card number is unique to you and is the perfect means to link information. Very strict privacy practices are in place when information from multiple sources is linked together. Researchers must document how they will ensure the confidentiality of your information and must receive approval from a Research Ethics Board before they can access your health information.

The Ontario Health Study was granted approval by the Research Ethics Board at the University of Toronto. This approval must be renewed on a yearly basis through a renewal application that is submitted by the OHS. The Research Ethics Board approves all aspects of the research study and ensures that it meets the required ethical criteria. The Ontario Health Study also receives oversight from an independent Ethics Advisory Committee, which includes members who are experts in bioethics and privacy.

International researchers must receive ethical approval from the organizations they work for prior to obtaining any Ontario Health Study data. All proposals will be reviewed by the Study’s Data Access Committee and researchers must sign a Data Access Agreement before they are given access to Ontario Health Study data.

The information you have provided to the Study will still be valuable and will continue to be used for approved research purposes.

The results of the Study will be available to everyone, including the government, but no participants will ever be identified in any publication, presentation or report.

Results of the research that is conducted with OHS data may provide information that will enable drug companies and other industry groups to develop new therapies and improve existing therapies. For example, drug companies rely heavily on research data from studies such as the Ontario Health Study for the development of new drugs and they play an important role in translating research data into tangible outcomes.

The Ontario Health Study may collaborate with industry groups within strict guidelines and only with approval from the Ontario Health Study Ethics Advisory and Scientific Advisory committees. The only health data that the OHS will ever give to a commercial enterprise will be information culled from a number of users – individual-level health data will not be given out. Study researchers will analyze the data ‘in-house,’ and industry groups will be provided only with the summarized results of this analysis. That is, results provided to industry will be at the population level, not at the individual level.

Industry collaborators will be obliged to pay a fee for the data they receive and are required to share their research findings with the Ontario Health Study. Any funds generated through industry collaboration will be used to support health-related research, educational and community programs in the province of Ontario, and to cover the costs of maintaining Ontario Health Study resources.

Your information is being collected for research purposes, and will not be accessible to the police, law enforcement officials or lawyers unless there is a requirement to do so by law (e.g., in very rare situations, a warrant could be issued by a court of law). This is largely hypothetical as we are not aware of any instance of the courts requesting information collected for health research purposes. If we were ever required to provide authorities with your information, we would inform you of the legal investigation if possible.

No personal information will be given to insurance companies or employers.

Some of the information you provide when you register will be kept by the Study even if you choose not to participate. The Study will use the information collected on the registration page to learn more about how people are becoming aware of the Study so that we can continue to reach new participants in the best way possible. Since not everyone who registers for the Study takes part, the registration information can help us learn more about who is interested in the Ontario Health Study versus who goes on to complete the Study. The Study may keep this information if you choose to participate and later decide to withdraw. This will allow the Study to see if there are any patterns of withdrawal depending on how participants first learned about the Study.

The success of the Ontario Health Study is dependent upon the ability to follow participants over many years. The value of your information will be greatly reduced if you withdraw from the Ontario Health Study. However, you are able to withdraw from the Study at any time. If you decide you no longer want to participate, we will not contact you for any additional information. To withdraw from the Study, please log in to your OHS personal home page and click on “Study Preferences” in the blue banner. Next click the “Withdrawal Options” box. You will be asked to indicate what you would like the OHS to do with the information you have already provided to the Study. You can choose from one of the following three options:

  1. No further contact: the Ontario Health Study will no longer contact you or ask you to participate in ongoing Study activities, but will continue to have your permission to keep and use information and samples you have already provided, and to continue to access information in administrative or medical databases (e.g., the Ontario Cancer Registry) and your personal medical records if you consented to this at the time you enrolled.
  2. No further access: the Ontario Health Study will no longer contact you or ask you to participate in ongoing Study activities, and will not collect any further information about you from administrative and medical databases (e.g., the Ontario Cancer Registry) or your personal medical records, but will still have permission to keep and use information and samples you have already provided.
  3. No further use: the Ontario Health Study will no longer contact you or ask you to participate in ongoing Study activities, collect additional information about you, and any information or samples you have already provided will be removed from our databases. It is not possible to remove information or samples that have already been provided to researchers for analyses. Your signed consent and withdrawal will be kept as a record of your wishes.

Should you have any questions or if you would like more information about your withdrawal options, please telephone the call centre at 1-866-606-0686, Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or send an email to info@ontariohealthstudy.ca.

Your consent will remain valid unless you withdraw from the Study. The information and samples you provide will be kept until they are no longer required for the purpose for which they were collected. Should this occur, a decision will be made about what to do with your information and any remaining samples.

No. The consent form allows you to opt out of ongoing follow-up and linkage to your administrative and personal health records. This allows you to participate in as much of the Ontario Health Study as you choose.

If you used to be able to log in but no longer can, it’s possible that you have been locked out of the system. If you repeatedly enter your username or password incorrectly, built-in security features associated with the website will take over. You are only able to try logging in five times before the system will lock you out for 24 hours. During this time, you cannot change your password – the response to your security question will be marked as “invalid.” Please confirm the spelling of your username and password before trying to log in again. If the problem persists, please change your password once the 24-hour period has passed or contact the call centre at 1-866-606-0686, Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for assistance.

It is possible that you have missed answering a question on the page or entered an unacceptable value for a question. Please make sure you have not entered any extra spaces in open text fields as this is a common source of error messages. Please scroll to the top of the screen to check for any error messages that may appear. Error messages will appear just above the question that has caused the error.

The system will save all of the questionnaire answers you have provided up to this point (up to the last completed page). Please log in again to resume answering the questionnaire where you left off. If you cannot log in again, please contact our call centre at 1-866-606-0686 or send us an email at info@OntarioHealthStudy.ca for further assistance. Our call centre is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The speed at which the questionnaire moves from screen to screen could be affected by a few things, including the number of people online at the same time, the speed of your internet connection or the speed and configuration of your computer. To help improve the speed of the questionnaire, please close all other programs on your computer and do not download other files, programs or updates while you are completing the questionnaire. If the problem persists and you are not able to complete the questionnaire, please contact our call centre at 1-866-606-0686 or send us an email at info@OntarioHealthStudy.ca for further assistance. Please note that our call centre will not be able to diagnose or fix any technical issues with your actual computer. Our call centre can only answer questions related to the Study and is not an IT Help Desk. Our call centre is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The system will save all of the questionnaire answers you have provided up to this point (up to the last completed page). You may exit the questionnaire and log in again to resume where you left off. If you cannot log in to the questionnaire again, please contact our call centre at 1-866-606-0686 or send us an email at info@OntarioHealthStudy.ca for further assistance. Our call centre is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

You are able to update your account information online, including the email address we use to keep in touch with you. Unfortunately, you cannot change the username you use to log in to the Study. Please continue to log in with the username that you used to register.

Yes. You are able to change the language of your questionnaire by clicking on the English or French tabs at the top right of the questionnaire.

Log in in to your account. In the “Account” section on the right side of the screen, click on the link labeled “Update Personal Info.” Type in the information you would like to update. Click “Submit” at the bottom of the page to send your updated contact information to the Ontario Health Study. You can then return to your home page or log out.

If you encounter issues with the way the website is displayed while completing the OHS questionnaire it may be due to the type of devices, platforms, and web browsers being used. You may experience difficulties if you are using Internet Explorer version 6.0 or Opera Mini web browser (operating on iPad or Android tablets).

For an optimal user experience, we recommend using a desktop or laptop computer with up-to-date versions of web browsers such as Internet Explorer, Opera, Firefox or Chrome.

If the website does not display properly, please contact our call centre at 1-866-606-0686 or send us an email at info@OntarioHealthStudy.ca. Our call centre is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Please double check the response you are trying to enter. The questionnaire has been designed to allow responses that fit within certain categories. For many responses, this means that values entered have to be between certain ranges and values that are outside these ranges will create an error. For example, you cannot enter that you were diagnosed with a certain condition at age 65 when you are only 30. By designing the questionnaire in this way, we can ensure we are getting the most accurate data. If you continue to experience difficulty, please contact our call centre at 1-866-606-0686 or send us an email at info@OntarioHealthStudy.ca. Our call centre is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.