Evaluation of the reporting quality of observational studies in master of public health dissertations in China

BMC Med Res Methodol. 2020 Sep 11;20(1):230. doi: 10.1186/s12874-020-01116-6.


Backgrounds: Master of public health (MPH) plays an important role in Chinese medical education, and the dissertations is an important part of MPH education. In MPH dissertations, most are observational studies. Compared with randomized controlled trial (RCT), observational studies are more prone to information bias. So, the reporting of the observational studies should be transparent and standard. But, no research on evaluating the reporting quality of the MPH dissertation has been found.

Methods: A systematic literature search was performed in the Wanfang database from January 1, 2014 to May 31, 2019. The Strengthening the Reporting of Observation Studies in Epidemiology (STROBE) statement was adopted to evaluate the reporting quality of the selected studies. Articles that met the following criteria were selected: (1) observational studies, including cross-sectional studies, case-control studies, and cohort studies; (2) original articles; (3) studies on humans, including both adults and children.

Results: The Median of compliance to individual STROBE items was 74.79%. The mean (standard deviation) of STROBE score was 14.29 (1.84). Five items/sub-items were 100% reported ("reported" and "partly reported" were combined): background, objectives, study design, report numbers of individuals at each stage, and key result. Fifteen items/sub-items were reported by 75% or more. Reporting of methods and results was often omitted: missing data (6.67%), sensitivity analyses (3.63%), flow diagram (15.15%), and absolute risk (0%). Logistic regression analysis indicated that cohort studies (OR = 3.41, 95% CI = 1.27-9.16), funding support (OR = 4.37, 95% CI = 1.27-9.16) and more published papers during postgraduate period (OR = 3.46, 95% CI = 1.40-8.60) were related to high reporting quality.

Conclusion: In short, the reporting quality of observational studies in MPH's dissertations in China is suboptimal. However, it's necessary to improve the reporting of method and results sections. We recommend that authors should be stricter to adhere STROBE statement when conducting observational studies.

Keywords: Dissertation; Evaluating; Master of public health; Observational studies; Reporting quality.