Background: This paper describes the development of the UK Women's Cohort Study and presents cohort baseline characteristics.
Methods: In total, 35,372 women, aged 35-69 years at recruitment, were selected to ensure a wide range of dietary intakes. Diet was assessed by a 217-item food-frequency questionnaire (FFQ). Detailed lifestyle information was collected by postal questionnaire. Vegetarians, fish-eaters and meat-eaters were compared.
Results: The cohort women are mainly white, well-educated, middle-class and married with children. They are health-conscious with only 11% current smokers and 58% taking dietary supplements. Twenty-eight per cent of subjects self-report as being vegetarian and 1% as vegan. However, only 18% are defined as 'vegetarian' from the FFQ. Fat provides 32% of energy; vitamin and mineral intakes are high, with a broad range of intakes. Meat-eaters are older, with a higher body mass index (BMI) and the lowest intakes of carbohydrate, fibre, vitamin C, folate, iron and calcium. Other fish-eaters are similar to vegetarians. Vegetarians have the lowest intakes of protein, fat and saturated fat. Oily fish-eaters have the lowest BMI; are the least likely to smoke or use full-fat milk; and are the most likely to use dietary supplements and consume the most fruit and vegetables. Oily fish-eaters have the highest total energy intake and vegetarians the lowest. Semi-skimmed milk, bread, potatoes, wine, bananas and muesli are important contributors to energy for all groups.
Conclusion: A large cohort of middle-aged women has been created encompassing a wide range of different eating patterns, including diets currently of interest to research into protection against cancer and coronary heart disease. Participants will be followed up to study the effects of different food and nutrient intakes on long-term health outcomes.