McCluskey, Serena and Topping, Annie (2011) Increasing response rates to lifestyle surveys: a pragmatic evidence review. Perspectives in Public Health, 131 (2). pp. 89-93. ISSN 1757-9139

Aims: Lifestyle surveys are often a key component of a local Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA), undertaken to inform public health planning. They are usually administered to a large number of people in order to provide a comprehensive profile of population health. However, declining response rates coupled with the under-representation of certain population groups in lifestyle survey data has led to doubts concerning the reliability of findings. In order to inform the design of their own lifestyle survey, NHS Calderdale commissioned an evidence-based review of the methodological literature relating to the administration of lifestyle surveys, with the specific aim of identifying practical and resource-efficient strategies shown to be effective for maximizing whole-population response rates.
Methods: A pragmatic review of the published literature was undertaken, specifically to explore the most practical and resource-efficient ways to maximize lifestyle survey response rates to the most commonly used methods (postal surveys, face-to-face interviews, telephone interviews and electronic surveys). Electronic databases including MEDLINE, CINAHL, DARE, EMBASE and PsychINFO were searched. Empirical evidence published in the last 10 years was identified and citation tracking performed on all retrieved articles. An internet search for ‘grey literature’ was also conducted.
Results: The postal questionnaire remains an important lifestyle survey tool, but reported response rates have decreased rapidly in recent years. Interviews and telephone surveys are recommended in order to supplement data from postal questionnaires and increase response rates in some population groups, but costs may be prohibitive. Electronic surveys are a cheaper alternative, but the empirical evidence on effectiveness is inconclusive. Careful planning and tailoring of survey design to the characteristics of target populations can increase response rates and representativeness of lifestyle survey data.
Conclusions: The results of this pragmatic review could provide a valuable resource for those involved in the design and administration of lifestyle surveys.

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