Evaluation of non-response bias in a cohort study of World Trade Center terrorist attack survivors

Yu, Shengchao; Brackbill, Robert M.; Stellman, Steven D.; Ghuman, Sharon; Farfel, Mark R.

Background: Few longitudinal studies of disaster cohorts have assessed both non-response bias in prevalence estimates of health outcomes and in the estimates of associations between health outcomes and disaster exposures. We examined the factors associated with non-response and the possible non-response bias in prevalence estimates and association estimates in a longitudinal study of World Trade Center (WTC) terrorist attack survivors. Methods: In 2003-04, 71,434 enrollees completed the WTC Health Registry wave 1 health survey. This study is limited to 67,670 adults who were eligible for both wave 2 and wave 3 surveys in 2006-07 and 2011-12. We first compared the characteristics between wave 3 participants (wave 3 drop-ins and three-wave participants) and non-participants (wave 3 drop-outs and wave 1 only participants). We then examined potential non-response bias in prevalence estimates and in exposure-outcome association estimates by comparing one-time non-participants (wave 3 drop-ins and drop-outs) at the two follow-up surveys with three-wave participants. Results: Compared to wave 3 participants, non-participants were younger, more likely to be male, non-White, non-self enrolled, non-rescue or recovery worker, have lower household income, and less than post-graduate education. Enrollees' wave 1 health status had little association with their wave 3 participation. None of the disaster exposure measures measured at wave 1 was associated with wave 3 non-participation. Wave 3 drop-outs and drop-ins (those who participated in only one of the two follow-up surveys) reported somewhat poorer health outcomes than the three-wave participants. For example, compared to three-wave participants, wave 3 drop-outs had a 1.4 times higher odds of reporting poor or fair health at wave 2 (95% CI 1.3-1.4). However, the associations between disaster exposures and health outcomes were not different significantly among wave 3 drop-outs/drop-ins as compared to three-wave participants. Conclusion: Our results show that, despite a downward bias in prevalence estimates of health outcomes, attrition from the WTC Health Registry follow-up studies does not lead to serious bias in associations between 9/11 disaster exposures and key health outcomes. These findings provide insight into the impact of non-response on associations between disaster exposures and health outcomes reported in longitudinal studies.


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BioMed Central
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June 14, 2015