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BACKGROUND: Prevalence estimates from surveys with low response rates are prone to non-response bias if respondents and non-respondents differ on the outcome of interest. This study assessed the external validity of prevalence estimates of selected maternity indicators from four national maternity surveys in England which had similar survey methodology but different response rates. METHODS: A secondary analysis was conducted using data from the national maternity surveys in 2006 (response rate = 63%), 2010 (response rate = 54%), 2014 (response rate = 47%) and 2018 (response rate = 29%). Unweighted and (for the 2014 and 2018 surveys) weighted survey prevalence estimates (with 95%CIs) of caesarean section, preterm birth, low birthweight and breastfeeding initiation were validated against population-based estimates from routine data. RESULTS: The external validity of the survey estimates varied across surveys and by indicator. For caesarean section, the 95%CIs for the unweighted survey estimates included the population-based estimates for all surveys. For preterm birth and low birthweight, the 95%CIs for the unweighted survey estimates did not include the population-based estimates for the 2006 and 2010 surveys (or the 2014 survey for preterm birth). For breastfeeding initiation, the 95%CIs for the unweighted survey estimates did not include the population-based estimates for any survey. For all indicators, the effect of weighting (on the 2014 and 2018 survey estimates) was mostly a shift towards the population-based estimates, yet the 95%CIs for the weighted survey estimates of breastfeeding initiation did not include the population-based estimates. CONCLUSION: There were no clear differences in the external validity of prevalence estimates according to survey response rate suggesting that prevalence estimates may still be valid even when survey response rates are low. The survey estimates tended to become closer to the population-based estimates when weights were applied, yet the effect was insufficient for breastfeeding initiation estimates.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

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