Reporting participation in epidemiologic studies: a survey of practice

Am J Epidemiol. 2006 Feb 1;163(3):197-203. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwj036. Epub 2005 Dec 7.


Self-selection bias may threaten the internal validity of epidemiologic studies. Studies with a low level of participation are particularly vulnerable to this bias, and commentators note apparent declines in participation in recent years. The authors therefore conducted a retrospective review to survey the practice of reporting participation in epidemiologic studies, to assess changes in participation over time, and to evaluate the impact of increased biologic specimen collection on participation. The authors abstracted selected study characteristics from 355 peer-reviewed, original, analytic-epidemiology research articles published from January 1 to April 30, 2003, in 10 high-impact general epidemiology, public health, and medical journals. At least some information regarding participation was provided in 59% of cross-sectional studies, 44% of case-control studies, and 32% of cohort studies. Participation appears to have declined during 1970-2003 for all study designs. Participation declined most steeply for controls in population-based, case-control studies (-1.86% per year, 95% confidence interval: -3.03, -0.69), with steeper declines after 1990. Proportionately more studies collected biologic specimens over time, particularly for cohort and case-control study designs (p(trend) = 0.06 and 0.03, respectively), yet participation was reported separately for the biologic specimen study component in only 27% of studies. The authors conclude that epidemiologists need to address declining participation and to report participation consistently, including for biologic specimen collection.

MeSH terms

  • Bibliometrics*
  • Data Collection
  • Epidemiologic Research Design*
  • Humans
  • Patient Selection*
  • Periodicals as Topic / statistics & numerical data*
  • Refusal to Participate / psychology
  • Refusal to Participate / statistics & numerical data*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Research Subjects / psychology*
  • Research Subjects / supply & distribution
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Selection Bias
  • Time Factors