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JMIR Res Protoc. 2015 Jun 12;4(2):e71. doi: 10.2196/resprot.3873.

Internet-Based Birth-Cohort Studies: Is This the Future for Epidemiology?

Author information

1
Centre for Public Health Research, Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand. r.t.firestone@massey.ac.nz.

Abstract

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

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