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Welcome to the Health and Employment After Fifty (HEAF) Study website. This internationally-recognised cohort study began in 2013 and the main aim of the investigation is to find out whether working to older ages is good or bad for health and how often health affects people’s ability to work in different types of job at older ages. This website provides more information about this important study and highlights some of our key findings so far.

INTRODUCTION TO THE HEAF STUDY

People in Britain are living for longer, and an increasing number of older people are working past the traditional retirement age. The HEAF study findings will be used to inform government departments (such as the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health) and also to advise employers about what can and cannot be expected from older workers.

HEAF STUDY PARTICIPANTS

Back in 2013, men and women aged 50-64 years of age from 24 general practices across England were invited to take part in the HEAF study. Participants were asked to complete a detailed questionnaire that asked about employment status, physical and psychological health, financial circumstances, plans for retirement, and leisure and social activities. We are interested in all participants whatever their individual employment circumstances, whether: employed, self-employed, unemployed, retired, volunteering, or caring for someone (often more than one of these options).

We are extremely grateful to our study participants who have completed further questionnaires each year and who have made the HEAF study such a success. Indeed, over 75% of participants are still enrolled in the study and without their support and help, it just would not be possible for this vital research to take place.

DON’T LOSE TOUCH!

Are you a HEAF participant and moving house? Then please let us know!

If you are changing address, please get in touch and let us know your new contact details :-

telephone: 023 80777624

Contact us via the web.

History

The global population is ageing. In particular European societies are changing through a combination of longer life expectancy and lower birth rates since the 1950s. As a result, it is expected that the number of people aged 65 and over in England will increase by 51% between 2010 and 2030. Right now in the UK, there are more people over State Pension age than there are children. Moreover, it is estimated that by 2020, people aged 50 or over will comprise 32% of the working age population.

There is a growing financial imperative to keep people in work to older ages. This has led to policy shifts in the UK encouraging people to work to older ages by increasing the age of eligibility for state pension and abolition of a default age of retirement, and legislation to remove age and disability discrimination in the workplace.

Work at older ages may confer psychological and physical benefits. However, older people may struggle with the demands of work and their greater prevalence of health problems may increase their risk of occupational injury.

The HEAF Cohort was set up in 2013/14 in order to look at these important and pressing issues.

The study attracted 8134 participants aged 50-64 at baseline. These participants were originally recruited through GP practices across England that are part of the Clinical Practice Research Database (CPRD).

The study has enjoyed a very impressive response rate and going into 2017/18 our cohort numbered in excess of 6,100.

 

Location of the 24 participating GP practices in the HEAF study

 

Men working after 65 yrs: UK, 1992-2012

 

 

Participants

Participants

The HEAF cohort study began in 2013 when 24 GP practices in England agreed to contact their patients to see if they would like to take part in the HEAF study. All their registered patients born between 1948 and 1962 (our target age band was 50–64 years) were sent details of the study. These were sent out between January 2013 and June 2014 and those who agreed to participate returned their baseline questionnaire, their written consent to take part and allow access to their health records, and their contact information.

We would like to thank all 8,134 of the HEAF participants who returned their details and those first questionnaires for their time and energy in making the HEAF study possible!
Four years on from when we began, HEAF is still enjoying a very high participation rate. Going into 2017/18 we were pleased that over 6,100 participants were happy to re-consent to continue to receive and return an annual questionnaires with details about their work and home circumstances.

Who are our participants?

Our study started in 2013/2014 when we sent out our baseline questionnaires.
54% of the people who completed and returned these questionnaire were women, and 46% were men. These were spread over the age bands with 26% born between 1958-1962, 32% born 1953-1957 and 42% born 1948-1952. When we compare these figures with a snapshot of the general population of England aged 50–64 years in June 2013, our sample is somewhat older with more women participating than men.

The majority of our participants (68%) were in paid work (either employed or self-employed), with the remainder being unemployed (7%) or retired (26%). These rates are very similar to those for all 50–64 year-olds in the UK, as judged by Labour Force Statistics for 2013 (67% in paid work, 5 % unemployed, 29% economically inactive). Employment rates were lower in women than men, although differences by sex were not marked. However, they fell off steeply in the oldest age band (with 46% in work and 51% retired), compared to 50–54 year-olds (with 88% in work and 3% retired).

Findings

The HEAF dataset is improving every day as we process more questionnaires. We have recently moved to a position where we have prepared data from some of our follow-up questionnaires. This will allow us to conduct much more detailed levels of research and analysis which will enable us to answer even more study questions.

To date we have been able to publish scientific papers in diverse areas from sleep disturnbances to job satisfaction.

Some of our initial findings are published in the papers below. The journal references are hyperlinked so you can read the papers if you wish.

 

Health and Employment after Fifty (HEAF): a new prospective cohort study. Keith T Palmer KT, Walker-Bone K, Harris EC, Linaker C, D’Angelo S, Aihie Sayer A, Gale CR, Evandrou M, van Staa T, Cooper C, Coggon D. BMC Public Health 2015;15:1071

Job dissatisfaction and the older worker: baseline findings from the Health and Employment After Fifty study D’Angelo S, Walker-Bone K, Harris EC, Linaker C, Aihie Sayer A, Gale C, Evandrou M, van Staa T, Cooper C, Coggon D, Palmer KT.. Occup Environ Med 2016;73:512-519

Sleep disturbance and the older worker: findings from the Health and Employment After Fifty study Palmer KT, D’Angelo S, Harris EC, Linaker C, Aihie Sayer A, Gale C, Evandrou M, van Staa T, Cooper C, Coggon D, Walker-Bone K.. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health 2017;43:136-145

Frailty, pre-frailty and employment outcomes in the Health and Employment after Fifty (HEAF) study. Palmer KT, D’Angelo S, Harris EC, Linaker C, Gale C, Evandrou M, van Staa T, Cooper C, Aihie Sayer A, Coggon D, Syddall HE, Walker-Bone K. Occup Environ Med 2017;74:476-482

Staff

PhotoBiography
Karen Walker-Bone
Director Arthritis Research UK/MRC Centre for Musculoskeletal Health and Work and Professor of Occupational Rheumatology

I graduated from Southampton University Medical School in 1991. I trained in rheumatology in the Wessex region and became an accredited Consultant in 2002. In that same year, I was awarded a PhD for my work (conducted at the MRC unit in Southampton) on the epidemiology of neck and upper limb disorders among working-aged adults.

Between 2003-13, I worked at the Brighton & Sussex Medical School. Whilst there, I developed a specialist rheumatology clinic for HIV-infected patients to assess and manage the joint and bone manifestations of the chronic infection. Together with the HIV Consultants in Brighton, a cohort of 400 HIV-infected men was incepted into a longitudinal study of bone health.

In 2013, I returned to the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit in Southampton. I am scientific lead of the Unit's ‘Work and health’ programme and the principal investigator on the HEAF study.
Cyrus Cooper
Director MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit
and Professor of Rheumatology


I graduated in medicine from the Universities of Cambridge and London, before completing my training in general medicine and rheumatology in Southampton. I initially joined the MRC Environmental Epidemiology Unit in 1985, when I commenced my doctoral research on the epidemiology of osteoporosis. Thereafter, I continued collaborative research with colleagues in the Unit while I travelled to Bristol and the United States, before returning as a Consultant Rheumatologist and MRC Senior Scientist in 1992.

My principal research interests are the causes and prevention of chronic age-related musculoskeletal disorders, including osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and sarcopenia.

I took over direction of the Unit in 2003, following the retirement of Professor David Barker and am proud of the achievements of all our staff in continuing a strong and internationally prominent research tradition.
David Coggon
Emeritus Professor of Occupational and Environmental Medicine

After studying mathematics and medical sciences at the University of Cambridge, I trained in clinical medicine at the University of Oxford during 1973-76. I joined the MRC Environmental Epidemiology Unit in 1980 as a clinical scientist and became Professor of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in 1997. I was founding director of the Arthritis Research UK/MRC Centre for Musculoskeletal Health and Work which opened in October 2014. I retired from full-time work in December 2015 but I am still involved with the occupational work both within the Centre and in the wider scientific community.

My research is aimed at informing the management of risk in the workplace and in the general environment, and also in informing Government policy, both nationally and internationally. This has included studies on the relation of musculoskeletal disorders to physical activity, on the health effects of chemical pollutants, and on cultural and psychosocial influences on illness attributed to occupational and environmental exposures.

I was involved in planning the HEAF study and have continued to be involved in its development since it began in 2013.
Cathy Linaker
Senior Research Fellow

I graduated as a nurse at the University of Southampton in 1990. After initially working for two years in Southampton as a staff nurse in obstetrics and gynaecology, I began work as a clinical research nurse in the Department of Medicine at the University of Southampton. I completed a PhD in 1997 that explored the effects of nitrogen dioxide on asthmatic symptoms in school-aged children.

I joined the MRC in 1997 and was involved in longitudinal studies of upper limb disorders.  This included the development and piloting of a standardised examination proforma for the upper limb and neck (the Southampton Examination Schedule), and the subsequent training of other researchers in this technique.

Recent studies include: a case-control study of occupational and lifestyle risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome; a multi-centre randomised controlled trial of physical activity and physiotherapy in the management of distal arm pain. I have been involved in the HEAF study from the start and you may well have emailed or spoken to me if you have needed to contact us!
Clare Harris
Senior Research Fellow

I graduated in Biology from the University of York before completing an MSc in Pollution and Environmental Control at the University of Manchester. I joined the MRC Environmental Epidemiology Unit in 1980 as a research assistant working mainly on occupational cohort studies. After leaving the MRC in 1988 to have a family, I returned part-time to the University of Southampton Mental Health Group where I completed a PhD on suicide as an outcome for disease in 1998.

I came back to the MRC as a part-time senior research fellow in 2001 and have continued to work mainly on occupational cohort studies. I have also worked on a case-control study of low back pain as part of a European study into the health effects of vibration, a case-control study of patients with suspected carpal tunnel syndrome in relation to various occupational and lifestyle risk factors, and systematic literature searches and reviews in relation to various occupational hazards.

I have been involved in the co-ordination of the HEAF study since it began in 2013.
Martin Stevens
Research Assistant and PhD student

I studied law at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2001 with an LLB. After a career in taxation I changed direction and joined the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit in September 2015 as a research administrator working primarily on the Health and Employment After Fifty (HEAF) study.

My journey into epidemiology has been very much a hands-on approach, learning from mentors in the MRC Unit whilst gaining practical experience of research by administering the HEAF study.

I am continuing to work on the main HEAF study administration but I have also just started work on a new HEAF sub-study to examine the factors that influence retirement choices (HEAF FIRST). This was made possible by a grant from the Colt Foundation and will form the basis of my PhD at the University of Southampton. I will be in contact with some of our participants to see if they would like to participate in this study.
Stefania D’Angelo
Statistician

I studied at the University of Bologna, where I completed a BSc in Statistics and Social Research in 2007 and then an MSc in Statistical Sciences in 2009.  I joined the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit in August 2012 and I work as a statistician in the Unit’s programmes on Work and Health and European Populations.

Since the start of the HEAF study I have been involved with preparing and analysing all of the information that our participants have kindly provided us with from their annual questionnaires. Once databases have been prepared I work with my clinical colleagues to investigate the links between various risk factors and a range of measures of work, health and disease in our population of older working age-people
Holly Syddall
Senior Research Fellow/Statistician

I studied at the University of Southampton and graduated in Mathematics with Statistics in 1996, and obtained an MSc in Statistics with Applications in Medicine in 1997. In the same year I joined the MRC Environmental Epidemiology Unit as statistician for the Hertfordshire Cohort Study.
In 2013 I completed a PhD which described social inequalities in musculoskeletal ageing among community dwelling older people in the UK.

My work with the Hertfordshire cohort has been really useful as I am now also working with the statisticians from the HEAF team on analysing the HEAF data. With lots of participants and new information coming in each year it is really interesting and there is plenty to be done! We hope to be publishing more of our findings soon.
Georgia Ntani
Statistician

I completed my diploma (5-year degree) in Applied Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the National Technical University of Athens, Greece, in 2008. Whilst there, I also trained as a medical statistician in the Alfa Institute of Biomedical Sciences. I then moved to the UK to complete an MSc in Statistics with Applications in Medicine at the University of Southampton in 2009. I joined the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit in 2010.
I currently work as a statistician in the Work and Health group and in the Arthritis Research UK/MRC centre for Musculoskeletal Health and Work. I was awarded a PhD in 2017 for my work based on a large international study of cultural and psychosocial influences on musculoskeletal pain and associated disability. I have more recently been working with other statisticians on the HEAF study.
Vanessa Cox
Computing Manager

I joined the MRC Environmental Epidemiology Unit in 1991, initially as an analyst programmer responsible for IT and data processing aspects of a number of the Unit’s projects, in particularly the Hertfordshire Cohort Studies.

Since becoming the IT manager in 2003, I have been responsible for managing the Unit IT department, a team of programmers, analysts and data entry assistants. I also manage the IT policies and I am responsible for data security and protection within the Unit. My primary interest is in maintaining the reputation of the Unit for producing high quality research data.

I have been involved with the HEAF study since it began. I am responsible for the management and preparation of all the HEAF data, from both the questionnaires and from the Clinical Practice Research Datalink. The data is protected with sophisticated security systems and you can feel assured that only our staff and collaborating scientists will view the information.
Gregorio Bevilacqua
Research Administrator

I am a Research Administrator at the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit.

As part of my work I have been helping with the administration of the HEAF study since I began in 2017. You can imagine that when the questionnaires are returned there is a lot of post to be dealt with!
Janet Comley
Receptionist and Data Processing Assistant

I have been a receptionist at the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit since 1998.


I have been involved with the HEAF study since it began. Both Julie and I prepare the questionnaire packs to go out to all the participants. When questionnaires are returned, I am part of the team of four data processors who carefully enter the information on to a computer database.
Julie Coleman
Receptionist and Data Processing Assistant

I have worked at the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit since 1984.

I have been involved with the HEAF study since it began. Both Janet and I prepare the questionnaire packs to go out to all the participants. When questionnaires are returned, I am part of the team of four data processors who carefully enter the information on to a computer database.
James Gifford-Hull
Data Processing Assistant

I have worked at the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit since 2011.

I have been involved with the HEAF study since the study started.
When questionnaires are returned, I am part of the team of four data processors who carefully enter the information on to a computer database.
Adam Price
Data Processing Assistant

I have worked at the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit since 2013.


I have been involved with the HEAF study since I started here. When questionnaires are returned, I am part of the team of four data processors who carefully enter the information on to a computer database.
Steve Duffield
PhD student

I commenced a PhD in March 2016 supported by the Institute of Aging and Chronic Disease in Liverpool, and the Arthritis Research UK/MRC Centre for Musculoskeletal Work and Health in Southampton. My supervisors are Dr Nicola Goodson, Professor Robert Moots, Dr Karen Walker-Bone, and Professor Keith Palmer.
There is increasing evidence that comorbid disease impacts on functional outcomes from musculoskeletal diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Less clear, however, is the extent to which the effect of musculoskeletal health on employment is modified by the presence of comorbid illness and disease.
As part of my PhD I have been working with the HEAF study team to integrate primary care data (CPRD data) with data collected within the HEAF study to explore the impact of comorbidity on work capability and work participation at older ages.