The HBSC research network is an international alliance of researchers that collaborate on the cross-national survey of school students: Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC). The HBSC collects data every four years on 11-, 13- and 15-year-old boys' and girls' health and well-being, social environments and health behaviours. These years mark a period of increased autonomy that can influence how their health and health-related behaviours develop.
The research venture dates back to 1982, when researchers from England, Finland and Norway agreed to develop and implement a shared research protocol to survey school children. By 1983 the HBSC study was adopted by the WHO Regional Office for Europe as a collaborative study. HBSC now includes 44 countries and regions across Europe and North America.
This research collaboration brings in individuals with a wide range of expertise in areas such as clinical medicine, epidemiology, human biology, paediatrics, pedagogy, psychology, public health, public policy, and sociology. The approach to study development has therefore involved cross-fertilization of a range of perspectives.
As such, the HBSC study is the product of topic-focused groups that collaborate to develop the conceptual foundations of the study, identify research questions, decide the methods and measurements to be employed, and work on data analyses and the dissemination of findings.
Behaviours established during adolescence can continue into adulthood, affecting issues such as mental health, the development of health complaints, tobacco use, diet, physical activity levels, and alcohol use. HBSC focuses on understanding young people's health in their social context – where they live, at school, with family and friends. Researchers in the HBSC network are interested in understanding how these factors, individually and together, influence young people's health as they move from childhood into young adulthood.
The international standard questionnaire produced for every survey cycle enables the collection of common data across all participating countries and thus enables the quantification of patterns of key health behaviours, health indicators and contextual variables. These data allow cross-national comparisons to be made and, with successive surveys, trend data is gathered and may be examined at both the national and cross-national level. The international network is organized around an interlinked series of focus and topic groups related to the following areas:
HBSC's findings show how young people's health changes as they move from childhood, through adolescence into adulthood. Member countries and stakeholders at national and international levels use our data to monitor young people's health, understand the social determinants of health, and determine effective health improvement interventions. Those working in child and adolescent health view HBSC as an extensive databank and repository of multidisciplinary expertise, which can: support and further their research interests, lobby for change, inform policy and practice, and monitor trends over time.
The purpose of the HBSC Terms of Reference (ToR) is to set out the aims and objectives of the study and to provide a clear set of principles, rights and responsibilities. Operational procedures for the activities of network members, study partners, and the production of collaborative work from the study are also described .
This shortened, public ToR serves as a useful example to other international studies of the rules of engagement of the HBSC international research network. It is also intended to show how decisions are made through democratic procedures. By sharing this information, stakeholders may gain insight and understanding about how the challenges of managing such an international research enterprise are met and how barriers to cooperation may be overcome. The ToR will also enable understanding of specific procedures of interest such as rules of publication and data access for those wishing to work with HBSC data.