December 11, 2014

Celebrate the Health Survey for England 2013

By Paul Laughlin

bathroom scalesOver the last couple of days there has been plenty of media coverage as to what the results of this health survey mean. The BBC in particular has debated whether it shows ‘more pill popping’ as a poor substitute for healthier lifestyles, or more ‘treatment where needed’ to prevent more serious conditions.

However, from a Customer Insight perspective, there is something else to celebrate here. That is the continued existence of a large quant longitudinal study of the type that does not happen elsewhere in Europe. A survey that interviews nearly 9,000 adults and over 2,000 children is not to be taken for granted by any business. Couple that with capture of consistent variables (in addition to topical ones) over 23 years, and you have a serious contribution to research evidence in the UK. An interesting throw away remark on Radio 4 yesterday was that the UK is often criticised as the ‘fat man’ of Europe, sometimes on the basis of the weight measurements taken in this survey, however at least for the UK we know the data. Such consistent record keeping of population height & weight does not exist elsewhere in Europe.

Another aspect of this survey which I believe deserves credit is its implementation. In contrast to recent unethical practices, notably Facebook’s covert experimentation on users, this survey demonstrates careful design of method. After standard MRS practice for notification & short-listing to those willing to participate in the survey, a nurse visits for the interviews. There are two reasons for this, first to take the basic measurements & be able to validate the medications taken, but more importantly because the personal nature of some of  the questions means people may be more comfortable talking to a nurse. This is surely an example of thinking about the customer experience when  designing research surveys, something that is too rarely done well.

So, I commend this piece of our national research library and there are plenty of interesting facts to find in the survey itself, including the less reported fact that 24% of men surveys are still active smokers (only 5% using alternatives including e-cigarettes). There are also worrying facts for shift workers. What else do you spot in this free resource for us all?