The follow-up of UK Armed Forces personnel using the ONS Longitudinal Study

Isabelle Bray, Defence Analytical Services Agency

[Project number 20068]

There are currently limited data available to assess the health and social status of UK Armed Forces (AF) personnel once they leave the Services. Some studies have examined cohorts of selected AF personnel e.g. Gulf war veterans (Macfarlane et al, 2000), nuclear test veterans (Muirhead et al, 2003). Long-term follow up is being undertaken among 140,000 US Armed Forces personnel in the Millennium Cohort Study (Gray et al, 2002). As it is not currently feasible for the MoD to follow up all AF personnel after discharge, it would be of considerable use if AF personnel could be identified in the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Longitudinal Study (LS). This is in line with the recommendation 10 in the 1998 Review of the Longitudinal Study (Office for National Statistics, 1999) 'to ensure greater public use is made of the LS, a target should be set for increasing the use made of LS data by government to support public policy analysis, development and/or evaluation'.

Issues to be addressed by this investigation include:

  • Can AF personnel be identified from the LS using occupational title/industrial code? If so, how many individuals does this relate to? (Analysis to date has identified the AF sample at the 1971, 1981 and 1991 Censuses using occupation codes - this will be extended to 2001).
  • What demographic variables are available in the LS to control for confounding?
  • Do AF personnel differ from comparison populations (e.g. police force, fire service) and the general population with regards to health?
  • Do ex-AF personnel differ from comparison populations and the general population with regards to health and occupational and accommodation characteristics, and do any differences change over time?
  • Do families of AF personnel differ from the general population in terms of health and occupational and accommodation characteristics?

The results of this piece of work will inform the MoD with regards to the health and well-being of in-Service and ex-Service personnel and explore the feasibility of following up personnel during and after their AF career.

References:

Gray GC, Chesbrough KB, Ryan MAR, Amoroso P, Boyko EJ, Gacksetter GD, Hooper TI, Riddle JR. The Millennium Cohort Study: A 21-year prospective cohort study of 140,000 military personnel. Military Medicine 2002;167 (6):483-488.

Macfarlane GJ, Thomas E, Cherry N. Mortality among UK Gulf War veterans. Lancet 2000;356 (9223):17-21.

Muirhead CR, Bingham D, Haylock RGE, O'Hagan JA, Goodill AA, Berridge GLC, English MA, Hunter N, Kendall GM. Follow up of mortality and incidence of cancer 1952-98 in men from the UK who participated in the UK's atmospheric nuclear weapon tests and experimental programmes. Occupational & Environmental Medicine 2003;60 (3):165-172.

Office for National Statistics. Review of the ONS Longitudinal Study 1998. London: HMSO, 1999.

The LS will allow the follow up in terms of health events and lifestyle characteristics (e.g. occupation, social and geographical mobility, accommodation) for:

  • AF personnel enumerated at Census or as enlistments; and
  • Children of AF personnel (enumerated at Census or as a New Birth).

We are aware that in some occupational groups the numbers of health events (e.g. cancer incidence by site, specific causes of death) will be too small to include in statistical analyses - in these cases frequencies will be tabulated for comparison.

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