BHS students from early ’60s part of follow-up study

Project Talent to assess Alzheimer’s affect among group

Researchers who once surveyed Baldwin High School students in a landmark study of American teenagers have launched a follow-up study to learn how the students’ lives have unfolded over the past five decades.

In 1960, Baldwin students were among 400,000 teenagers surveyed across the country in a study known as Project Talent. The 1,180 students from Baldwin made up nearly half of the 2,693 students surveyed at three Hawaii schools, which included Leilehua High and University High on Oahu. Project Talent presented a snapshot of a generation coming of age on the cusp of a new era. It was the most comprehensive study of American high school students ever conducted and included students from all walks of life and every racial and ethnic group.

Now, Project Talent is sending out questionnaires to participants to learn what’s happened to them since — and to gain a better understanding of Alzheimer’s disease.

“The Project Talent generation has contributed to important research in the past five decades,” Project Talent Director Susan Lapham said. “Now, they have the opportunity to help us address some of the most pressing public health concerns currently facing our country.”

Over two days in the spring of 1960, Project Talent assessed the aptitudes, abilities, hopes and expectations of high school students from 1,353 schools across the country. The goal was to identify the unique strengths and interests of America’s young people and to ensure they were being guided into careers that made the best use of their talents. Follow-up studies collected information on the participants’ occupations, family formation, education and health.

Survey results from Baldwin showed that:

• The percentage of seniors who went to college, both male and female, was 20 to 29 percent, below the national average of 30 to 39 percent.

• The average age of the first date was 16 and the average number of dates was one per week.

• Thirty-five percent of students’ parents were both born in the U.S., slightly lower than the 38 percent national average.

• Thirty-one percent of students had no TV or phone.

The average Baldwin student in the survey expected to be married by age 23 or 24, have two children and earn $10,000 to $12,500 annually 20 years after graduation. Engineering was the top career aspiration for males; elementary school teacher was the top aspiration for females.

As the only large-scale, nationally representative study that tracks participants from adolescence to retirement age, Project Talent helps understand how experiences, environments, genetics and behaviors combine to make people who they are and influence how they age.

The new study will have a special focus on memory and cognitive health in an effort to develop policies to combat the looming Alzheimer’s crisis. The National Institute on Aging reports that by 2050, the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease will more than triple, reaching 16 million. The cost of caring for sufferers will exceed $1 trillion annually.

The new study also will focus on the 1960 Project Talent participants who identified as a racial or ethnic minority. Researchers want to understand the health disparities between minority and nonminority groups and examine the long-term effects of attending racially segregated versus integrated schools.

“These findings will be important in informing current health policy,” Lapham said. “Segregation in schools has been increasing in recent years, but we know little about the potential long-term impact on health in later life.”

In 1960, Project Talent was remarkable for the diversity of its participants. Researchers have designed the new study to be just as diverse.

Members of the Baldwin classes of 1960 to 1963 who’ve been asked to participate in the study are strongly encouraged to complete the survey and share their experiences with researchers. Participants can contact Project Talent by calling (866) 770-6977, emailing projecttalentstudy@air.org or by visiting projecttalent.org.

The new Alzheimer’s study is funded by the National Institutes of Health. The original study was developed by the American Institutes for Research and funded by the U.S Office of Education.

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