5 new things you can now find through CLOSER Discovery

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In December 2019, CLOSER added 35,000 new variables to its longitudinal metadata search platform, CLOSER Discovery. In this blog, Senior Metadata Manager Hayley Mills describes the possibilities this opens up for researchers.

The UK is home to an incredible wealth of longitudinal data, spanning decades of life and history. These data open up seemingly endless opportunities for secondary analyses – if you can find out what the data cover.

Metadata – the data about data – give researchers a clear picture of what was collected, how, when and by whom. CLOSER Discovery is a metadata platform that allows researchers to search and explore the contents of 9 (and counting!) UK longitudinal studies, in unprecedented detail. A repository like CLOSER Discovery is a living thing – always growing, improving, and taking in more information as new data are collected, or historic records are made available.

In December 2019 we added 35,000 new variables to CLOSER Discovery. Here are just 5 potential research areas covered by this new content.

1. The life and times of the Boomers: near complete collections from the 1946 and 1958 British birth cohorts

We were thrilled to add remaining information on the main questionnaires from the MRC National Survey of Health and Development (the 1946 birth cohort) and data from the National Child Development Study (the 1958 birth cohort), up to ages 60-64 and age 50 respectively.

The 1946 and 1958 cohorts represent the beginning and end of the Baby Boom generation in the UK. They also illustrate the full potential of longitudinal data collection – these participants have been followed consistently from birth, through childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, and into the later stages of life. With decades of data from each study, researchers can see how long-lasting the effects of our early life circumstances truly are. Life course research at its best.

Historic studies are challenging to document to modern standards. The addition of so much information from the first two national birth cohorts represents a massive effort from CLOSER and the study teams to make these data more discoverable. We’ll continue to work with the studies to add all remaining information, including from all secondary instruments, such as cognitive tests sub-studies.

2. Gambling: information from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children

Interest is rising in the risks of gambling, particularly among young people. The House of Lords Gambling Industry Committee’s recent inquiry into the subject is a clear indication. CLOSER’s submission to the inquiry highlighted longitudinal evidence on the childhood characteristics linked to problem gambling behaviour in young people, and the associations with other addictive behaviours and mental health later in life.

The research we cited is based on the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), which has been investigating such potentially risky behaviour with its participants since their teenage years. And now that information is ready for researchers to discover.

The variables and questions on adolescent gambling from ages 17 and 20 are now searchable through CLOSER Discovery. In addition, we’ve also included information on what was asked of parents about their own gambling habits when cohort members were age 6 (mothers and partners), and of mothers when the participants were 18.

3. Intergenerational research and parent-child interactions: a special collection from the 1970 British Cohort Study

The Age 34 Sweep of the 1970 British Cohort Study had a special set of additional respondents – the cohort members’ children. Children aged 10 to 16 completed paper questionnaires about leisure activities, relationships with their parents, attitudes to school and aspirations for the future, self-esteem, smoking, drinking, drug use and experience of crime. Their parents were also asked to complete a paper questionnaire about each child, covering parenting style, physical and cognitive development, parent/child relationship, behaviour, school absence and schoolwork. By including information on multiple generations within the same study, BCS70 opened up opportunities to explore intergenerational transmission of behaviours and parent-child relationships.

CLOSER Discovery now includes rich metadata on all self-completion questionnaires completed by parents and children, including source questions for each variable and their position within the questionnaire, as well as variable frequencies.

4. You are what you eat: food diaries and nutrient data from the Hertfordshire Cohort Study and the Southampton Women’s Survey

The Southampton Women’s Survey (SWS) is the only study in Europe that began following women before they became pregnant. This unique design allows researchers to study the relationships between a mother’s health and behaviours before and during pregnancy – including what she ate – and her child’s outcomes later on.

At the other end of the life spectrum, the Hertfordshire Cohort Study (HCS) follows 3,000 men and women born in 1931-39, and is designed to evaluate the relationship between early growth, genetic influences, and ageing – with diet being an important component of the data collections.

The variables from key SWS and HCS food diaries are now searchable through CLOSER Discovery. And wouldn’t it be great if someone was reviewing, assessing – and where possible – harmonising dietary information across studies? Well we’re doing that too. CLOSER’s harmonisation project on diet is comparing and documenting dietary data across all eight of our partner studies.

5. And finally, the newbie: introducing the Wirral Child Health and Development Study

We’ve introduced a new study to the CLOSER Discovery family, the Wirral Child Health and Development Study. The study was established in 2007 to identify early social, emotional and biological risks and processes involved in the development of childhood conduct problems. It was designed to identify pathways to antisocial outcomes that might require differing treatment responses.

The study is also ideally designed to identify pathways to childhood emotional problems. The study team is in the process of sharing their metadata with CLOSER for all questionnaire measures. The mother questionnaire from the first sweep (phase 01) is available now and there is much more to follow. Watch this space!

Help us make Discovery as useful as possible

In addition to regularly adding new content, we’re also always making fixes and improvements to the way the CLOSER Discovery works. If you are interested in taking part in CLOSER’s next round of user testing, or have any feedback please get in touch at closer@ucl.ac.uk.


Dr Hayley Mills is the Senior Metadata Manager at CLOSER.