Information by Design
Lifestyle Survey Toolkit

Need For Surveys In The Health And Social Care

There are many needs and imperatives for organisations involved in health and social care to carry out surveys. Surveys can be part of health promotion activities, they can be linked to local Health Improvement Plans, or inform work on reducing inequalities in health. Surveys are also used to monitor access to health care services and satisfaction with these.

Within the NHS, the current needs and NHS priorities are laid out in key policy documents such as the NHS Plan, Saving Lives and the Modernisation Programme. Surveys should therefore collect data that are relevant and help to measure progress against specific targets. In addition, the White Paper, Choosing Health: Making Choices Easier emphasises the importance of information and evidence, some of which will require local lifestyle surveys to be conducted.

Using Health and Lifestyle Surveys to Measure Inequality

Health and Lifestyle surveys are commonly used to examine issues around inequalities in health at a local area level. For local area health inequalities to be examined successfully, a wide range of aspects including the following need to be considered;

  • What indicator of inequality to choose?
  • How is the indicator to be used?
  • How will we compare between groups, or areas, over time?

For further details, click here

Why a Health and Lifestyle Survey?

There are many reasons to carry out a Health and Lifestyle Survey. Below are some of the objectives of some of the Lifestyle surveys conducted recently, which demonstrate the reasons organisations have given for conducting a Health and Lifestyle Survey.

  • To target health and social care resources appropriately in order to improve the health of the population
  • To provide a baseline for monitoring the impact of interventions designed to improve health and well-being.
  • To allow comparisons between the behaviours of people in the area.
  • To provide information that could be used to plan new services.
  • To highlight areas to explore further, especially in terms of health inequalities.

Examples Health & lifestyle surveys

Health and lifestyle surveys have become an established method of gathering information over the last 30 years. Some key references, providing sound advice and guidance, date back to the early 1970's. Although there are common and recurring themes, surveys can vary enormously in their scale and scope. The following Lifestyle surveys illustrate this:

Survey Sample Size Method
Oxford Healthy Lifestyle Survey 14,868 Postal
Health and Lifestyles of people living in Portsmouth and South East Hampshire 7,034 Postal
Glasgow Youth Survey 1,551 Self-completion in schools
Blyth Valley Lifestyle Survey 1,445 Face-to-face interview

Case Study: Oxford Regional Healthy Lifestyle Survey

"The first Oxford Regional Healthy Lifestyle Survey was conducted with the aim of collecting baseline data on the health and health-related lifestyles of the local adult population, which could be used to help plan the Region's health promotion strategy and to target areas of need.  The Health and Lifestyle Survey was one of the first of its kind in the UK, and represented growing desire by the Regional Health Authority to take a population rather than a patient based approach to health services planning, and to measure and respond specifically to local health need".  For details of the Oxford Health and Lifestyle surveys click here.
When designing surveys, self-complete questionnaires are most commonly used and mailed to members of the public. The target population may be the Electoral Roll, the GP registers or similar sampling frame. A survey should request information that is reasonable to provide, should use straightforward language and be relatively quick and easy to complete. The topics covered vary according to the scope of an individual survey, but generally cover questions on health and illness, and factors that affect health, such as behaviour and personal circumstances.

National and regional surveys

National and regional surveys of health and lifestyle are important due to their geographical coverage, methodological rigour, their capacity to provide trend data, and as they incorporate new topics.

A number of surveys are carried out on a continuous or repeating basis and these provide a good source of reliable data, with trends over time. National surveys are often carried out by interviewers in people's homes, so will differ from what can be achieved with postal or self-complete questionnaires. Interviewing is much more costly than a postal survey, and unfortunately questions used in this format do not necessarily work the same when used in a mailed questionnaire.

The General Household Survey contains certain topics related to health and lifestyle notably smoking. Results from this have been published annually since 1971 by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The Health Survey for England is a major annual survey with national coverage carried out for the Department of Health since 1993. It consists of face-to-face interviews and specifically addresses health, with a wide range of health and health behaviour questions. Each year the Health Survey for England has a particular focus and this changes over time. Similar surveys are carried out every few years in Scotland and Wales.

National surveys use robust methods and provide reliable and authoritative health and lifestyle information. Use national statistics when planning a survey, for estimating health and lifestyle in your area or for comparison with primary data.

There is good internet access to these and other national surveys, e.g. psychiatric health, health of ethnic minority groups, smoking among school-children, etc. Details and links to many of these national and regional surveys in given in the Question Bank and Resource Bank of this Toolkit.