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Joining UK biobank

March 10, 2012

Waiting to become a data point

A couple of years ago I responded to an invitation to join UK Biobank, one of the largest health research cohorts ever assembled. I’m normally sceptical about health cohorts – they cost a bomb and never seem to come up with much, apart from the Lancet’s “Friday Health Scares”, or pseudo-justifications for public health enthusiasts various nanny state agendas. But my curiosity was piqued by Biobank. I’d  been aware of its development over many years, and it is large enough to test some interesting hypotheses.

First impressions were favourable. Although I’d failed to make a proper appointment they fitted me in, the survey was clear and unambiguous, my blood pressure was checked properly, and there was almost no waiting for all the blood tests and other assessments. Everything was efficiently bar coded and automated, and I was out of the door in 30 minutes clutching my profile – “waist measurement borderline”. I felt guilty for having halved my reported alcohol intake and doubled the number of people I said I’d had sex with!

Now I’m one of 500,000 people in their forties and fifties who get occasional requests to describe what we ate and drank in the preceding 24 hours – I try to answer truthfully now – and waiting to annoy the next generation as a data point on a “Friday Health Scare”.

Jim Thornton

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