Optimal recall period for caregiver-reported illness in risk factor and intervention studies: a multicountry study

Am J Epidemiol. 2013 Feb 15;177(4):361-70. doi: 10.1093/aje/kws281. Epub 2013 Jan 29.


Many community-based studies of acute child illness rely on cases reported by caregivers. In prior investigations, researchers noted a reporting bias when longer illness recall periods were used. The use of recall periods longer than 2-3 days has been discouraged to minimize this reporting bias. In the present study, we sought to determine the optimal recall period for illness measurement when accounting for both bias and variance. Using data from 12,191 children less than 24 months of age collected in 2008-2009 from Himachal Pradesh in India, Madhya Pradesh in India, Indonesia, Peru, and Senegal, we calculated bias, variance, and mean squared error for estimates of the prevalence ratio between groups defined by anemia, stunting, and underweight status to identify optimal recall periods for caregiver-reported diarrhea, cough, and fever. There was little bias in the prevalence ratio when a 7-day recall period was used (<10% in 35 of 45 scenarios), and the mean squared error was usually minimized with recall periods of 6 or more days. Shortening the recall period from 7 days to 2 days required sample-size increases of 52%-92% for diarrhea, 47%-61% for cough, and 102%-206% for fever. In contrast to the current practice of using 2-day recall periods, this work suggests that studies should measure caregiver-reported illness with a 7-day recall period.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Algorithms
  • Anemia / epidemiology
  • Bias
  • Caregivers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cough / epidemiology
  • Diarrhea / epidemiology*
  • Fever / epidemiology
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • India / epidemiology
  • Indonesia / epidemiology
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Mathematical Computing
  • Mental Recall*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Peru / epidemiology
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prevalence
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / epidemiology*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Sampling Studies
  • Senegal / epidemiology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Thinness / epidemiology