Academic journal article International Journal of Child Health and Human Development

Do Young Adults Participate in Surveys That 'Go Green'? Response Rates to a Web and Mailed Survey of Weight-Related Health Behaviors

Academic journal article International Journal of Child Health and Human Development

Do Young Adults Participate in Surveys That 'Go Green'? Response Rates to a Web and Mailed Survey of Weight-Related Health Behaviors

Article excerpt


The transition from adolescence to young adulthood represents a critical point in the life cycle for the promotion of many health behaviors and the prevention of chronic disease (1,2). Yet, there is a paucity of research among young adults on the contextual factors that influence health behaviors to inform the development of programs and services (2,3). Health researchers are in need of efficient strategies for surveying diverse populations of young adults. With 95% of U.S. young adults (18-29 years) reporting use of the Internet and 77% reporting they have high-speed Internet access at home (4, 5), opportunities for researchers to conduct online surveys are growing. Research in populations with near universal access to the Internet (e.g., college students, professional groups) has found web surveys can be more cost effective than mailed surveys, have shorter turnaround times, and higher item completion rates (6-8).

Although web surveys offer many potential advantages over mailed surveys, there are limitations of using this methodology as demographic disparities in Internet use exist (5,9). Population subgroups that report lower than average usage rates include those living in low-income households, adults whose highest level of education is a high school degree, and individuals who identify their race/ethnicity as African American or Hispanic. Published research examining response rates to web surveys has typically reported methods that rely on direct e-mail invitations (10,11). However, e-mail addresses may be unavailable for all members of a population-based sample or difficult for longitudinal studies to track over time. Sending invitations by U.S. mail and providing an alternative mailed response option for web surveys may allow researchers to gain from the advantages of web surveys while minimizing non-response bias due to demographic disparities. There is a need for evaluation of such mixed-mode designs in demographically diverse populations of young adults to examine response rates and representation.

The current study among a population-based sample of young adults aimed to 1) examine response to a mailed survey invitation that encouraged online participation and 2) identify sociodemographic correlates of response mode (web versus mailed). Young adults in the sample were participants in a larger longitudinal study that did not collect e-mail addresses at baseline and for which previous follow-up surveys were collected via U.S. mail. Since using a mixed-mode design may offer attractive cost efficiencies when a sufficiently large number of responses are received online, this study describes the response results for each mode after a series of reminders were delivered to participants over a period of 11 months.


Study design and population

Data for this analysis were drawn from Project EAT-III (Eating and Activity in Teens and Young Adults), the third wave of a 10-year longitudinal study designed to examine dietary intake, physical activity, weight control behaviors, weight status, and factors associated with these outcomes among young people. In Project EAT-I, junior and senior high school students at 31 public schools in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area of Minnesota completed surveys and anthropometric measures during the 1998-1999 academic year (12,13). Five years later (2003-2004), for Project EAT-II, original participants were mailed follow-up surveys to examine changes in their eating patterns, weight control behaviors, and weight status as they progressed through adolescence (14,15). Project EAT-III was designed to follow up on participants again in 2008-2009 as they progressed from adolescence to young adulthood and through their twenties. The University of Minnesota's Institutional Review Board Human Subjects Committee approved all protocols used in Project EAT at each of the three time points.

Of the original 4,746 participants, 1,304 (27. …

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