Science Journal of Medicine and Clinical Trials

May 2013,Volume 2013, ISSN: 2276-7487

Author(s) 2013. This work is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research Article


Reliability of Obituaries as a Data Source in Epidemiologic Studies: Agreement in Age, Residence and Occupation

Donna B. Gerstle1, MA, MS, JD, Kristen B. White2, MPH, CPH, Alfred M. Levine3, PhD.

1Donna B. Gerstle, MA, MS, JD. Executive Director and Principle Investigator for the Staten Island Breast Cancer Research Initiative at the College of Staten Island, Center for Environmental Science.
2 Kristen White, MPH, CPH. Epidemiologic Research Associate at the College of Staten Island, Center for Environmental Science.
3Alfred Levine, PhD. Professor of Engineering Science and Physics at the College of Staten Island, Center for Environmental Science.

Accepted 21 April, 2013; Available Online 16 May, 2013.

doi: 10.7237/sjmct/101


Newspaper obituaries are an easily accessible and cost-effective data source.Although obituaries offset many of the challenges involved with the cohort study designs, their use in public health research is limited and their reliability remains untested. The current study investigates the reliability of life history data obtained from obituaries for 620 lung cancer cases and controls between the years 1980-1990. New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene death certificates, in-person/surrogate interviews, and obituary notices from the Staten Island Advance were obtained and compared on the following life history variables: Age, Length of Residence on Staten Island, Major Job Title, and Occupational Risk Exposure. Obituaries and in-person/surrogate interviews were in excellent overall percent agreement on 'Age' [97.3% (+/1yr)], 'Length of Residence on Staten Island' [76.1% (+/-1 year); 81.1% (+/-2 years); 85.3% (+/-3 years); 87.6% (+/-4 years); 91.9% (+/-5 years)], 'Major Job Title' [Kappa=0.87; 95% C.I. (0.83, 0.91); pp<0.0001], and 'Occupational Risk Exposure' [Kappa=0.51; 95% C.I. (0.47, 0.55); p<0.0001]. We show that obituary notices are comparable to in-person and surrogate interviews on a number of personal and exposure history variables. These highly correlated results indicate that newspaper obituaries are a reliable source of life history information and could be utilized more commonly in epidemiologic research. We demonstrate that when detailed life history data obtained in an obituary is coupled with death certificate information, researchers can conduct original and progressive epidemiologic studies on chronic disease.

Keyword: obituaries, cancer , Staten Island, epidemiologic , Residence and Occupation.