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Open Access Research article

End-digits preference for self-reported height depends on language

Matthias Bopp* and David Faeh

Author Affiliations

Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine (ISPM), University of Zurich, Hirschengraben 84, 8001 Zurich, Switzerland

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BMC Public Health 2008, 8:342  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-8-342

Published: 30 September 2008

Abstract

Background

When individuals report figures, they often prefer to round to specific end-digits (e.g. zero). Such preference has been found in reports of body weight, cigarette consumption or blood pressure measurements. Very little is known about self-reported body height. End-digit preference can distort estimates of prevalence and other statistical parameters. This study examines end-digit preference for self-reported height and how it relates with sex, age, educational level or cultural affiliation.

Methods

We analysed reports of height of 47,192 individuals (aged 15 years or older) living in Switzerland and participating in one of the three population-based Swiss Health Surveys carried out in 1992/93, 1997 and 2002 respectively. Digit preferences were analysed by sex, age group, educational level, survey, smoking status, interview language (only for Swiss nationals) and nationality. Adjusted odds ratios (OR) with 95% confidence interval were calculated by using multivariate logistic regression.

Results

Italian and French nationals (44.1% and 40.6%) and Italian and French Swiss (39.6% and 35.3%) more strongly preferred zero and five than Germans and German Swiss (29.2% and 30.3%). Two, four, six and eight were more popular in Germans and German Swiss (both 44.4%). Compared to German Swiss (OR = 1), for the end-digits zero and five, the OR were 1.50 (1.38–1.63) for Italian Swiss and 1.24 (1.18–1.30) for French Swiss; 1.73 (1.58–1.89) for Italian nationals and 1.61 (1.33–1.95) for French nationals. The end-digits two, four, six and eight showed an opposite pattern.

Conclusion

Different preferences for end-digits depending on language and nationality could be observed consistently in all three national health surveys. The patterns were strikingly similar in Swiss and foreign nationals speaking the same language, suggesting that preferences were specific to language rather than to nationality. Taking into account rounding preferences could allow more valid comparisons in analyses of self-reported data originating from different cultures.