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Open Access Research article

Factors affecting study efficiency and item non-response in health surveys in developing countries: the Jamaica national healthy lifestyle survey

Rainford Wilks1*, Novie Younger1, Jasneth Mullings1, Namvar Zohoori1, Peter Figueroa2, Marshall Tulloch-Reid1, Trevor Ferguson1, Christine Walters2, Franklyn Bennett1, Terrence Forrester1, Elizabeth Ward2 and Deanna Ashley2

Author Affiliations

1 Tropical Medicine Research Institute, the University of the West Indies, Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica

2 The Ministry of Health, Kingston Mall, Kingston, Jamaica

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2007, 7:13  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-7-13

Published: 28 February 2007



Health surveys provide important information on the burden and secular trends of risk factors and disease. Several factors including survey and item non-response can affect data quality. There are few reports on efficiency, validity and the impact of item non-response, from developing countries. This report examines factors associated with item non-response and study efficiency in a national health survey in a developing Caribbean island.


A national sample of participants aged 15–74 years was selected in a multi-stage sampling design accounting for 4 health regions and 14 parishes using enumeration districts as primary sampling units. Means and proportions of the variables of interest were compared between various categories. Non-response was defined as failure to provide an analyzable response. Linear and logistic regression models accounting for sample design and post-stratification weighting were used to identify independent correlates of recruitment efficiency and item non-response.


We recruited 2012 15–74 year-olds (66.2% females) at a response rate of 87.6% with significant variation between regions (80.9% to 97.6%; p < 0.0001). Females outnumbered males in all parishes. The majority of subjects were recruited in a single visit, 39.1% required multiple visits varying significantly by region (27.0% to 49.8% [p < 0.0001]). Average interview time was 44.3 minutes with no variation between health regions, urban-rural residence, educational level, gender and SES; but increased significantly with older age category from 42.9 minutes in the youngest to 46.0 minutes in the oldest age category. Between 15.8% and 26.8% of persons did not provide responses for the number of sexual partners in the last year. Women and urban residents provided less data than their counterparts. Highest item non-response related to income at 30% with no gender difference but independently related to educational level, employment status, age group and health region. Characteristics of non-responders vary with types of questions.


Informative health surveys are possible in developing countries. While survey response rates may be satisfactory, item non-response was high in respect of income and sexual practice. In contrast to developed countries, non-response to questions on income is higher and has different correlates. These findings can inform future surveys.