Background: Faced with the challenge of recruiting young adults for health studies, researchers have increasingly turned to the Internet and social networking sites, such as Facebook, as part of their recruitment strategy. As yet, few large-scale studies are available that report on the characteristics and representativeness of the sample obtained from such recruitment methods.
Objective: The intent of the study was to describe the sociodemographic and health characteristics of a national sample of young Australian women recruited mainly through the Internet and social networking sites and to discuss the representativeness of their sociodemographic, health, and lifestyle characteristics relative to the population.
Methods: A cohort of 17,069 women (born between 1989 and 1995) was recruited in 2012-13 for the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health. Sociodemographic characteristics (percentages, means, and 95% confidence intervals) from the online survey data were compared with women aged 18-23 years from the 2011 Australian Census. Sample data were compared by age and education level with data from the 2011-13 Australian Health Survey (AHS).
Results: Compared to the Australian Census data, study participants were broadly representative in terms of geographical distribution across Australia, marital status (95.62%, 16,321/17,069) were never married), and age distribution. A higher percentage had attained university (22.52%, 3844/17,069) and trade/certificate/diploma qualifications (25.94%, 4428/17,069) compared with this age group of women in the national population (9.4% and 21.7% respectively). Among study participants, 22.05% (3721/16,877) were not in paid employment with 35.18% (5931/16,857) studying 16 or more hours a week. A higher percentage of study participants rated their health in the online survey as fair or poor (rather than good, very good, or excellent) compared with those participating in face-to-face interviews in the AHS (18.77%, 3203/17,069 vs 10.1%). A higher percentage of study participants were current smokers (21.78%, 3718/17,069 vs 16.4%) and physically active (59.30%, 10,089/17,014 were classified as sufficiently active vs 48.3%) but alcohol consumption was lower (59.58%, 9865/16,558 reported drinking alcohol at least once per month vs 65.9% in the AHS). Using self-reported height and weight to determine body mass index (BMI, kg/m(2)), 34.80% (5901/16,956) of the cohort were classified as overweight or obese (BMI of 25 or more), compared with 33.6% respectively using measured height and weight in the AHS.
Conclusions: Findings indicated that using the Internet and social networking sites for an online survey represent a feasible recruitment strategy for a national cohort of young women and result in a broadly representative sample of the Australian population.
Keywords: Australia; Facebook; Web-based survey; data collection; education; online survey; representativeness; social media; socioeconomic factors; women’s health; young adults.