Creating A Living Lab For Health And Wellness

Lake Nona, Florida, might appear like a normal community, but it’s not. It’s actually a giant experiment in how we can keep people healthy.

If you’re venturing to Orlando, Florida, there’s a decent chance that you’re one of the 51 million-plus tourists that goes there every year, mainly to one of the city’s theme parks. But over the next decade, a planned community in Orlando called Lake Nona will become something of an attraction as well–not for tourists, but for researchers and medical professionals.


Today, Lake Nona is a health-focused community that has about 7,000 people living and working in its borders. It’s home to the Orlando VA Medical Center, the University of Central Florida’s Health Sciences Campus, and the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute. In the coming years, that number will balloon to 40,000 to 50,000 people as the community grows its “innovation cluster” of “health and life science innovation,” according to Thad Seymour, president of the Lake Nona Institute.

But here’s where things get interesting: Johnson & Johnson’s Wellness & Prevention Inc. is teaming up with the Lake Nona Institute to create a longitudinal health and wellness study of people living and working the community. “Traditionally [longitudinal studies] have always looked at disease progression, but we want to understand how people are healthy and how to keep them healthy,” explains Ben Wiegand, vice president of science and innovation at Wellness & Prevention Inc.

That means looking at biomarker and genetic assessments to predict the likelihood of disease, but also studying online personal health assessments from the residents. Wellness & Prevention isn’t just sitting on the sidelines, observing people throughout their lives–it also plans on intervening with real-time coaching and advice. Says Wiegand: “We want to understand the cohort first. If we see there is a propensity for obesity, we can provide access to weight-loss counseling.”

Wellness & Prevention can also intervene in Lake Nona’s many health care settings, potentially controlling how care is provided for the better. Among the initiative’s goals: improving modifiable risk factors for disease, cutting down on chronic disease rates, and reducing participants’ RealAge by 10%. In other words, the initiative is attempting to turn a slice of Orlando into a model of health for the rest of the country (and the world) to follow.

In addition to the longitudinal study, Lake Nona is also teaming up with Cisco, which just named it a “Smart+Connected” city for its built-in connectivity (i.e. gigabit Internet connections for all new homes). As Lake Nona grows, Cisco will help add IP video surveillance systems, energy-management systems, better cellular connections, and more.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.