Throughout young people’s lives there are many different events and factors that can have an impact on their life course. Changing health states, different lived experiences, exposure to diverse opportunities, education, and influences from cultural, psychosocial and socioeconomic circumstances can all have pivotal roles. The period when young people emerge into adulthood is theorised to be a distinct period with different norms and expectations. Yet, none of the existing longitudinal, prospective cohort studies being undertaken in Australia focus on young adults as they emerge into adulthood or capture the changes they experience over their life course.
In the United States, two prospective university cohorts were established at Harvard University, ‘the Nurses’ Health Study’, to monitor risk factors for chronic diseases and the ‘Health Professionals Follow-up Study’, to monitor factors that contribute to long-term health in men. In Spain, a prospective university graduate cohort was established at Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra (‘the SUN study’) to primarily examine dietary habits in the Mediterranean, and has since broadened to examine other risk factors and health conditions and expanded to include graduates from five other Spanish universities.
We will conduct a pilot study to establish a large, prospective cohort study with a young adult demographic at Macquarie University that would routinely capture information on life experiences and exposures and their impact on health-related quality of life (HRQoL), lifestyle, health and wellbeing, continuing education, and career trajectories. This will be instrumental in understanding the determinants of healthy, resilient individuals over a unique segment of their life courses.
The aim of MQ-MINDS is to pilot the establishment of a prospective cohort of Macquarie University graduates that would be a long-term resource to shape our understanding of psychosocial and lifestyle risk and protective factors, exposures, and health and wellbeing outcomes. In the long-term, the MQ-MINDS longitudinal cohort would allow research to be undertaken to:
- examine risk and protective factors associated with HRQoL, including injury and psychosocial health, and health service use over time;
- examine the impact of mental health, especially anxiety and depression, on career trajectory and lived experiences;
- investigate the influence of undergraduate and/or postgraduate education on employment, career trajectory, and continuing education over time;
- explore the role of social media technologies (e.g. Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, LinkedIn) as a form of social connectedness over time;
- examine the influence of critical periods, like major life events (e.g. births, deaths, change in financial or work arrangements, major conflict) on resilience, psychosocial health and work–family life balance;
- investigate the impact of screen time (e.g. television, tablet devices, smart phone, laptop) on physical activity levels and sedentary lifestyles over time;
- probe the influence of socioeconomic determinants on HRQoL, including the impact of social connectedness and community networks;
- examine lifestyle factors (e.g. smoking, alcohol use, sleep habits, physical activity, nutrition) and the risk of repeat health service use;
- explore the impact of undertaking informal carer activities for disabled, elderly or chronically ill relatives on an individual’s HRQoL and career trajectory;
- investigate the role of career satisfaction and expectations on HRQoL, including psychosocial health over the life course; and
- examine the use of mentors in the development and enhancement of career trajectories.
A prospective cohort of up to 7,000 graduates from Macquarie University in 2018 will be invited to form an inception pilot cohort for MQ-MINDS. The MQ-MINDS pilot cohort would involve graduates completing an online questionnaire in 2018 and participating in a follow-up questionnaire one year later in 2019. Participants would be asked to provide consent for their health records (i.e. ambulance, emergency department, hospitalisation, cancer registry and mortality records) to be linked to their questionnaire responses in 2019. This data linkage will be conducted by the Centre for Health Record Linkage (CHeReL) to protect the privacy of the study participants. Participants would be assured that all their personal information will be kept confidential, that no individual responses would be identified, and that their data would only be used for medical and public health research purposes approved by an ethics committee. All individuals will be informed that their participation in the cohort is voluntary and that they are free to withdraw from the cohort at any time, with no penalty or prejudice from Macquarie University or the researchers.
The priority research areas were selected based on importance of health, education and lifestyle factors affecting young adults in Australia. The baseline and follow-up questionnaires will examine a range of exposures and health outcomes (see list below). It is estimated that the baseline and follow-up questionnaires will take approximately 40 minutes to complete and they will be conducted via the Qualtrics online survey platform.
- Demographic characteristics
- Employment and job satisfaction
- Physical and emotional health status
- Life style
- Physical activity and sedentary behaviour
- Life events
- Carer activities
- Social networks and support
- Technology and social media use