MRC National Survey of Health and Development

1946 British birth cohort study

The Medical Research Council (MRC) National Survey of Health and Development (NSHD) is the oldest and longest running of the British birth cohort studies; it is a nationally representative sample (N=5,362) of men and women born in England, Scotland or Wales in March 1946.

From an initial maternity survey of 13,687 of all births recorded in England, Scotland and Wales during one week of March, 1946, a socially stratified sample of 5,362 singleton babies born to married parents was selected for follow-up. This sample comprises the NSHD cohort and participants have been studied 24 times.

Today, with study members in their seventies, the NSHD is a leading source of evidence on the long-term biological and social processes of ageing and how ageing is affected by factors acting across the whole of life.

The participants have been followed up in the course of 24 data collections. Regular interviews with the mothers were conducted by health visitors, with additional assessments by school doctors and teachers. In adult life, research nurses conducted home visits at ages 26,36,43,53 and 69, a detailed clinic visit took place between ages 60-64, and there have been a number of postal questionnaires, including annual questionnaires to women (47-54 years) to capture the menopause transition. At the latest home visit at age 69, the participation rate was 80% (N=2149).

During childhood, the main aim of the NSHD was to investigate how the environment at home and at school affected physical and mental development and educational attainment. During adulthood, the main aim has been to investigate how childhood development and lifetime social circumstances and lifestyle affected adult health and function and how these change with age. Now that participants have reached their seventies, the NSHD has developed into a life course study of ageing.

Sample design

The maternity survey included all the singleton births to married women in England, Scotland, and Wales in one week in March 1946 (N=13,687). From this survey, a socially stratified target sample of 5362 individuals was chosen for long-term follow-up.

Linked data

The cohort were first flagged in 1971 by the NHS Central Register and NSHD has linked data to mortality, emigration and cancer registrations. Work is in progress to obtain Hospital Episodes Statistics (HES) data.

Management and funding

The NSHD is funded by the MRC and managed by the MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing at University College London.

Accessing the data

The MRC National Survey for Health and Development (NSHD) has governance and access arrangements that comply with MRC data sharing policy. The survey data are accessible to bona fide researchers by applying through the NSHD website.

Researchers wishing to access the meta-data repository should contact mrclha.swiftinfo@ucl.ac.uk for further information.

Cohort profiles

Kuh et al. The MRC National Survey of Health and Development reaches age 70: maintaining participation at older ages in a birth cohort study. Eur J Epidemiol (2016) 31:1135–1147. doi: 10.1007/s10654-016-0217-8

Kuh et al. Cohort Profile: Updating the cohort profile for the MRC National Survey of Health and Development: a new clinic-based data collection for ageing research. Int J Epidemiol. 2011 Feb; 40(1): e1–e9. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyq231

Wadsworth MEJ et al. Cohort profile: the 1946 national birth cohort (MRC National Survey of Health and Development). Int J Epidemiol. 2006;35:49–54. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyi201