The National Women's Health Study: assembly and description of a population-based reproductive cohort

Maconochie, Noreen; Doyle, Pat; Prior, Susan
January 2004
BMC Public Health;2004, Vol. 4, p35
Academic Journal
Background: Miscarriage is a common event but is remarkably difficult to measure in epidemiological studies. Few large-scale population-based studies have been conducted in the UK. Methods: This was a population-based two-stage postal survey of reproductive histories of adult women living in the United Kingdom in 2001, sampled from the electronic electoral roll. In Stage 1 a short "screening" questionnaire was sent to over 60,000 randomly selected women in order to identify those aged 55 and under who had ever been pregnant or ever attempted to achieve a pregnancy, from whom a brief reproductive history was requested. Stage 2 involved a more lengthy questionnaire requesting detailed information on every pregnancy (and fertility problems), and questions relating to socio-demographic, behavioural and other factors for the most recent pregnancy in order to examine risk factors for miscarriage. Data on stillbirth, multiple birth and maternal age are compared to national data in order to assess response bias. Results: The response rate was 49% for Stage 1 and 73% for the more targeted Stage 2. A total of 26,050 questionnaires were returned in Stage 1. Of the 17,748 women who were eligible on the grounds of age, 27% reported that they had never been pregnant and had never attempted to conceive a child. The remaining 13,035 women reported a total of 30,661 pregnancies. Comparison of key reproductive indicators (stillbirth and multiple birth rates and maternal age at first birth) with national statistics showed that the data look remarkably similar to the general population. Conclusions: This study has enabled the assembly of a large population-based dataset of women's reproductive histories which appears unbiased compared to the general UK population and which will enable investigation of hard-to-measure outcomes such as miscarriage and infertility.


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