Challenges of measuring diurnal cortisol concentrations in a large population-based field study

Citation

Halpern, Carolyn Tucker; Whitsel, Eric A.; Wagner, Brandon; & Harris, Kathleen Mullan (2012). Challenges of measuring diurnal cortisol concentrations in a large population-based field study. Psychoneuroendocrinology. vol. 37 (4) pp. 499-508 , PMCID: PMC3245839

Abstract

Objectives
Longitudinal examinations of associations between daily stress, diurnal cortisol concentrations, and physiological parameters in population-based studies are needed. This study evaluates issues related to consent, collection, and protocol adherence for a low-burden saliva collection protocol.
Methods
In the 2007 pretest (n = 193) for Wave IV of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) a three-sample, one-day, unsupervised saliva collection protocol was pilot tested. Embedded experiments allowed for examination of adherence and effects of monetary incentives.
Results
Although most (97%) study participants consented to collection, only about 80% actually mailed back samples. Use of a time-stamping TrackCap allowed comparison of self-reported and stamp-recorded collection times. Of returned samples, self-report of collection time was missing for about a quarter, and only about one in three respondents (of those for whom adherence was calculable) fully adhered to the collection protocol, indicating significant potential for bias. Consent, return, and protocol adherence were unrelated to key sociodemographic characteristics, and did not improve with higher monetary incentives or knowledge of being monitored.
Conclusions
Despite the relatively low-burden collection protocol and use of multiple strategies thought to improve collection and protocol adherence, response and adherence were poor, leading to a decision to drop cortisol measurement from the Wave IV Add Health protocol. Large field studies should carefully evaluate the feasibility of collection and protocol adherence for unsupervised collection protocols before implementing costly, and potentially unusable, biological measurements.

URL

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016%2Fj.psyneuen.2011.07.019

Reference Type

Journal Article

Journal Title

Psychoneuroendocrinology

Author(s)

Halpern, Carolyn Tucker
Whitsel, Eric A.
Wagner, Brandon
Harris, Kathleen Mullan

Year Published

2012

Volume Number

37

Issue Number

4

Pages

499-508

DOI

10.1016/j.psyneuen.2011.07.019

PMCID

PMC3245839

NIHMSID

NIHMS320597

Reference ID

1535