UK Biobank’s 500,000 participants are generally healthier, leaner and smoke less than their fellow countrymen and women, suffering less heart and kidney disease and cancer, the resource reports.
However, this well-established ‘healthy volunteer’ effect does not reduce the value of the resource – its large size and diversity of measurements means that a wide range of studies can be undertaken, and results will have meaning for people generally.
Researchers are reminded though that they should keep the volunteer effect in mind when doing their studies. Because UK Biobank participants are more health-conscious, the resource is not best placed to estimate the numbers of people with a particular disease in the UK, or its incidence.
Deaths so far recorded by UK Biobank are approximately half those which would be expected in the general population. Cancer incidence is approximately 10-20% lower. Lung cancer rates are markedly lower in UK Biobank participants, almost certainly caused by fewer smoking.
The only illness included in the study that was more common in men is prostate cancer, which might reflect a higher rate of screening among health-conscious UK Biobank participants, resulting in a diagnosis of cancer.
Rates of female breast cancer were also similar to the national average in those aged 50 and over. However, the breast cancer rate was higher in women aged 45-49 years. This may reflect an increased likelihood of attending screening prior to invitation to join the nationwide breast cancer screening programme for women aged 50-70 years.
UK Biobank participants were more likely to be older, women and to live in less socially economically deprived areas than non-participants. They were less likely to be obese, smoke, drink alcohol on a daily basis and had fewer self-reported health problems.
Death rates and total cancer incidence at aged 70-74 years were 46.2% and 11.8% lower in men and 55.5% and 18.1% lower in women, respectively than the general population of the same age.
Page updated: 22 June 2017