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Surprising Science

Why You Should Take The Next Health Survey Offered To You

Social scientists and health officials are concerned that their dropping survey response rates are negatively impacting research and services. Ironically, they place the blame on the proliferation of marketing surveys.

What’s the Latest Development?

Social scientists and health officials in Norway are noticing a worrisome trend: Over time, the number of people who respond to surveys has dropped significantly, to the point where one major national survey involving young people and their drug and alcohol use was ended after 40 years. Ottar Hellevik, who heads another national survey effort, says that today “roughly one-fourth of people we ring up will actually participate…When we follow up those telephone surveys with a written survey, we are left with a full response rate of around eight per cent. This is far lower than in the 1980s.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Public health official Camilla Stoltenberg echoes other experts when she says, “The decline is most likely due to people reaching a saturation point with too many surveys. Everyone is asking for market feedback, from the hotel you last stayed at to the online bank you use.” Without data from a representative sample, it’s difficult for researchers and institutions to make changes that could improve services, and “while high participation does not guarantee a representative sample group, it does raise the likelihood that the sample represents the intended target group.”

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