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Recruitment and retention of young women into nutrition research studies: practical considerations

Alecia Leonard1, Melinda Hutchesson1*, Amanda Patterson1, Kerry Chalmers2 and Clare Collins1

Author Affiliations

1 Priority Research Centre in Physical Activity and Nutrition and School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Health and Medicine, University of Newcastle, University Drive, Callaghan, Newcastle NSW 2308, Australia

2 School of Psychology, Faculty of Science and IT, University of Newcastle, NSW Newcastle, Australia

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Trials 2014, 15:23  doi:10.1186/1745-6215-15-23

Published: 16 January 2014



Successful recruitment and retention of participants into research studies is critical for optimising internal and external validity. Research into diet and lifestyle of young women is important due to the physiological transitions experienced at this life stage. This paper aims to evaluate data related to recruitment and retention across three research studies with young women, and present practical advice related to recruiting and retaining young women in order to optimise study quality within nutrition research.


Recruitment and retention strategies used in three nutrition studies that targeted young women (18 to 35 years) were critiqued. A randomised controlled trial (RCT), a crossover validation study and a cross-sectional survey were conducted at the University of Newcastle, Australia between 2010 and 2013Successful recruitment was defined as maximum recruitment relative to time. Retention was assessed as maximum participants remaining enrolled at study completion.


Recruitment approaches included notice boards, web and social network sites (Facebook and Twitter), with social media most successful in recruitment. The online survey had the highest recruitment in the shortest time-frame (751 participants in one month). Email, phone and text message were used in study one (RCT) and study two (crossover validation) and assisted in low attrition rates, with 93% and 75.7% completing the RCT and crossover validation study respectively. Of those who did not complete the RCT, reported reasons were: being too busy; and having an unrelated illness.


Recruiting young women into nutrition research is challenging. Use of social media enhances recruitment, while Email, phone and text message contact improves retention within interventions. Further research comparing strategies to optimise recruitment and retention in young women, including flexible testing times, reminders and incentives is warranted.

Young women; Recruitment; Retention; Nutrition study