Recruitment and retention into longitudinal health research from an adolescent perspective: a qualitative study

Stephanie T. Jong, Rebecca Stevenson, Eleanor M. Winpenny, Kirsten Corder, Esther M. F. van Sluijs

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Background: High quality longitudinal studies investigating changes in health behaviours over the transition into early adulthood are critical. However, recruiting and retaining adolescents is challenging. This study explored adolescents’ perspectives of signing up to and continuing involvement in a hypothetical longitudinal health research study.

Methods: Forty-eight individuals (15-20y) participated in nine in-person focus groups about recruitment and retention in research. Participants were (a) school students in the last year of compulsory school (Year 11, 15-16y), (b) school/college students in Sixth Form (Year 13, 17-18y), (c) Further Education students studying after secondary education, but not higher education (16-18y) and (d) young adults not in education, employment, or training (18-20y) across England. Thematic analysis resulted in seven themes.

Results: Driving factors for sign-up included social connection e.g., joining with peer groups, personalised feedback, and incentives, primarily financial. Key barriers were lack of interest, the perception of commitment, and timing of recruitment. Young people preferred recruitment processes via social media with messages tailored to their motivations, monthly data collection of maximally 20–30 min, and hybrid data collection with some in-person contact with a consistent, non-judgemental researcher. The provision of autonomy, choice, and financial incentives were perceived to promote retention.

Conclusions: Adolescent recruitment and retention strategies need to align with contemporary interests and motivations. Studies should involve adolescents early to develop a planned, systematic approach to participant sign-up and follow-up. Effective and ineffective recruitment and retention strategies should be reported as part of study findings. Future research should trial how perceived barriers to study engagement can be overcome.
Original languageEnglish
Article number16
JournalBMC Medical Research Methodology
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jan 2023


  • Adolescent
  • Early adulthood
  • Longitudinal
  • Recruitment
  • Retention
  • Study participation
  • Transition

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