Press Release

First major national lifestyle survey begins

The Minister for Health and Children, Mr Brian Cowen T.D. today (Wednesday 20th May 1998) announced the first national survey of health and lifestyle needs ever undertaken in Ireland.

Postal questionnaires are being mailed to 13,633 individuals across the country, making this also the largest postal survey to date in Ireland. The Department’s Health Promotion Unit has commissioned the Centre for Health Promotion Studies at NUI Galway to undertake the research, analyse and report on the findings. The survey is called SLAN (Survey of Lifestyle, Attitudes and Nutrition).

Minister Cowen said: “Although progress has been made over recent years, the biggest killers in Ireland continue to be heart disease, cancer and accidents. There are many lifestyle factors which can protect us from such early death or illness and conversely there are some which put us at risk. Educating people about risk factors and promotion of a healthy lifestyle are central to the Department’s strategy to reduce the levels of cardiovascular disease, cancer and accidents in Ireland. Proper planning and implementation of effective public health initiatives must be based on an understanding of the public’s attitudes to, and awareness of, lifestyle issues. The survey starting today, will, for the first time, give us a really comprehensive national picture of Irish people’s lifestyles and general health.”

The survey is extensive. It seeks information on a range of key lifestyle factors, including: exercise patterns and frequency, smoking habits, alcohol consumption, use of other substances, history of accidents and a comprehensive profile of nutrition habits.The individuals surveyed will also be asked about their general physical and mental health, regularity of visits to GPs and very importantly, they will also be asked to detail any obstacles they perceive to exist which may hinder them from, say, exercising more or eating healthily.

The survey will also measure specific risk factors including cholesterol levels, blood pressure, weight and height etc.

This massive research initiative has two distinct components. Firstly, 13,633 questionnaires will be posted out as of May 18th. If questionnaires have not been returned within three weeks of posting, specially trained field workers will call to peoples homes in early June to collect them.

The second key feature of the research is the clinical stage. During the month of June 10% of the 13,633 possible respondents will undergo a physical examination, carried out by trained nurses who will travel nation-wide with a mobile unit or in regional centres. Participants will be asked to answer additional questions relating to health and mental well-being, in addition to the free health check.

The 13,633 people invited to participate in the survey, all aged 18+, have been randomly selected from the Electoral Register. The sample is distributed across the eight regional health board areas and reflects the urban/rural distribution in each of the eight areas. Males and females from all socio-economic groups will be represented in the survey. All information recorded in the SLÁN survey will be completely confidential and not used for any other purpose.

The postal questionnaire extends to 25 pages and takes an average of 30 minutes to complete. Both the Department of Health and Children and the Centre for Health Promotion Studies share a concern that people may find this off putting but the questionnaire has been designed to be as user-friendly as possible. The follow-up arrangements with trained field workers have been put in place to help ensure a good response.

Minister Cowen added:

“This is an extremely important study. We have never done anything like this before in Ireland. It is vital that we start to build up an accurate picture of current health needs in order to plan really effective health promotion and education strategies which can deliver the national targets for reduction in cardiovascular disease, cancer and accidents.

“People can help influence policy making at the national level by taking the time to participate in the survey and providing us with the information needed. We need their input and urge people to get involved.”

There is an incentive built in for filling out the questionnaire. Every individual returning a questionnaire will have their name entered into both a regional draw and a national draw. The prize for the regional draw is a weekend away for two in Ireland and the national prize winner will receive a weekend away for two in a European city.