Background: International collaborative cohorts the NINFEA and the ELF studies are mother-child cohorts that use the internet for recruitment and follow-up of their members. The cohorts investigated the association of early life exposures and a wide range of non-communicable diseases.
Objective: The objective is to report the research methodology, with emphasis on the advantages and limitations offered by an Internet-based design. These studies were conducted in Turin, Italy and Wellington, New Zealand.
Methods: The cohorts utilized various online/offline methods to recruit participants. Pregnant women who became aware volunteered, completed an online questionnaire, thus obtaining baseline information.
Results: The NINFEA study has recruited 7003 pregnant women, while the ELF study has recruited 2197 women. The cohorts targeted the whole country, utilizing a range of support processes to reduce the attrition rate of the participants. For the NINFEA and ELF cohorts, online participants were predominantly older (35% and 28.9%, respectively), highly educated (55.6% and 84.9%, respectively), and were in their final trimester of pregnancy (48.5% and 53.6%, respectively).
Conclusions: Internet-based cohort epidemiological studies are feasible, however, it is clear that participants are self-selective samples, as is the case for many birth cohorts. Internet-based cohort studies are potentially cost-effective and novel methodology for conducting long-term epidemiology research. However, from our experience, participants tend to be self-selective. In marked time, if the cohorts are to form part of a larger research program they require further use and exploration to address biases and overcome limitations.
Keywords: Internet; birth cohort; epidemiology.