High-quality evidence from prospective longitudinal studies in humans is essential to testing hypotheses related to the developmental origins of health and disease. In this paper, the authors draw upon their own experiences leading birth cohorts with longitudinal follow-up into adulthood to describe specific challenges and lessons learned. Challenges are substantial and grow over time. Long-term funding is essential for study operations and critical to retaining study staff, who develop relationships with participants and hold important institutional knowledge and technical skill sets. To maintain contact, we recommend that cohorts apply multiple strategies for tracking and obtain as much high-quality contact information as possible before the child's 18 birthday. To maximize engagement, we suggest that cohorts offer flexibility in visit timing, length, location, frequency, and type. Data collection may entail multiple modalities, even at a single collection timepoint, including measures that are self-reported, research-measured, and administrative with a mix of remote and in-person collection. Many topics highly relevant for adolescent and young adult health and well-being are considered to be private in nature, and their assessment requires sensitivity. To motivate ongoing participation, cohorts must work to understand participant barriers and motivators, share scientific findings, and provide appropriate compensation for participation. It is essential for cohorts to strive for broad representation including individuals from higher risk populations, not only among the participants but also the staff. Successful longitudinal follow-up of a study population ultimately requires flexibility, adaptability, appropriate incentives, and opportunities for feedback from participants.
J Dev Orig Health Dis
When a birth cohort grows up: challenges and opportunities in longitudinal developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD) research.