European directive on confidential data: a threat to epidemiology

BMJ 1994; 308 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.308.6927.490 (Published 19 February 1994)
Cite this as: BMJ 1994;308:490

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  1. E Lynge

    At the end of last year the BMJ published two studies by Barker and colleagues, on the relation between growth in utero and serum cholesterol concentration in adult life1 and mortality from cardiovascular disease.2 The first study used records from a hospital in Sheffield from 1939-40 on weight, length, and the circumference of the head, chest, and abdomen at birth. The second used midwives' and health visitors' records from Hertfordshire from 1911 onwards on birth weight, infant feeding, and weight at 1 year. Both sets of records included enough personal identification to enable the researchers to trace the subjects' deaths or addresses four to eight decades later. Most people would agree that these studies are valuable and have major public health implications. Nevertheless, record linkage studies like these are potentially under threat from a proposed European Union directive on confidential data.

    The draft directive was first proposed in 1990 and is now in its second version,3 with amendments being negotiated …

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