BACKGROUND: National health surveys linked to vital statistics and health care information provide a growing source of individual-level population health data. Pooling linked surveys across jurisdictions would create comprehensive datasets that are larger than most existing cohort studies, and that have a unique international and population perspective. This paper's objectives are to examine the feasibility of pooling linked population health surveys from three countries, facilitate the examination of health behaviours, and present useful information to assist in the planning of international population health surveillance and research studies.
DATA AND METHODS: The design, methodologies and content of the Canadian Community Health Survey (2003 to 2008), the United States National Health Interview Survey (2000, 2005) and the Scottish Health Survey (SHeS) (2003, 2008 to 2010) were examined for comparability and consistency. The feasibility of creating common variables for measuring smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity and diet was assessed. Sample size and estimated mortality events were collected.
RESULTS: The surveys have comparable purposes, designs, sampling and administration methodologies, target populations, exclusions, and content. Similar health behaviour questions allow for comparable variables to be created across the surveys. However, the SHeS uses a more detailed risk factor evaluation for alcohol consumption and diet data. Therefore, comparisons of alcohol consumption and diet data between the SHeS and the other two surveys should be performed with caution. Pooling these linked surveys would create a dataset with over 350,000 participants, 28,424 deaths and over 2.4 million person-years of follow-up.
DISCUSSION: Pooling linked national population health surveys could improve population health research and surveillance. Innovative methodologies must be used to account for survey dissimilarities, and further discussion is needed on how to best access and analyze data across jurisdictions.