With the new year, an institute at Rutgers is embarking on what should end up being the largest study to date of the factors impacting health and well-being in the Garden State.

The Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research has received $10 million in funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Rutgers University to take on the research and, ideally, help improve health equity in the state.

"New Jersey is one of the most diverse states in the nation. We're one of the wealthiest states, but with some of the most significant and persistent health disparities," Institute director XinQi Dong told New Jersey 101.5.

The New Jersey Population Health Cohort study aims to enroll up to 10,000 participants beginning in early 2021. Dong noted there will be an emphasis on recruiting immigrants, as well as members of multigenerational families and minority and low-income communities. To support participation, the Institute is partnering with community organizations and key stakeholders. Dong said the team also plans to launch a broad social media campaign to attract engagement.

Researchers will be collecting survey responses from participants, focusing on factors such as stress, resilience and cognitive function. The team also wants to get a good handle on participants' physical heath, so they'll collect biometrics and blood samples, and track physical activity with wearable technology.

"COVID-19 has added a new and deeply troubling burden on the well-being of communities already experiencing health disparities," added Joel Cantor, co-lead investigator. "Insights from the Cohort Study can help us answer questions like, how does living with multiple generations in the same house affect rates of coronavirus infection and the ability to manage stress from the pandemic? How are essential workers from minority communities coping with the pandemic?"

Data collection will last for more than two years, Dong said. Once analyzed, data will be provided to communities and the state, so New Jersey residents' "voices can be heard."

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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