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Compliance is a critical issue for parental questionnaires in school based epidemiological surveys and high compliance is difficult to achieve. The objective of this study was to determine trends and factors associated with parental questionnaire compliance during respiratory health surveys of school children in Merseyside between 1991 and 2006.
Four cross-sectional respiratory health surveys employing a core questionnaire and methodology were conducted in 1991, 1993, 1998 and 2006 among 5-11 year old children in the same 10 schools in Bootle and 5 schools in Wallasey, Merseyside. Parental compliance fell sequentially in consecutive surveys. This analysis aimed to determine the association of questionnaire compliance with variation in response rates to specific questions across surveys, and the demographic profiles for parents of children attending participant schools.
Parental questionnaire compliance was 92% (1872/2035) in 1991, 87.4% (3746/4288) in 1993, 78.1% (1964/2514) in 1998 and 30.3% (1074/3540) in 2006. The trend to lower compliance in later surveys was consistent across all surveyed schools. Townsend score estimations of socio-economic status did not differ between schools with high or low questionnaire compliance and were comparable across the four surveys with only small differences between responders and non-responders to specific core questions. Respiratory symptom questions were mostly well answered with fewer than 15% of non-responders across all surveys. There were significant differences between mean child age, maternal and paternal smoking prevalence, and maternal employment between the four surveys (all p<0.01). Out-migration did not differ between surveys (p=0.256) with three quarters of parents resident for at least 3 years in the survey areas.
Methodological differences or changes in socio-economic status of respondents between surveys were unlikely to explain compliance differences. Changes in maternal employment patterns may have been contributory. This analysis demonstrates a major shift in community parental questionnaire compliance over a 15 year period to 2006. Parental questionnaire compliance must be factored into survey designs and methodologies.