Original article

International Journal of Public Health

, Volume 54, Supplement 2, pp 140-150

First online:

The Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study: methodological developments and current tensions

  • Chris RobertsAffiliated withResearch and Evaluation Branch, Public Health Strategy Division, Public Health and Health Professions Department, Welsh Assembly Government Email author 
  • , J. FreemanAffiliated withFaculty of Education, Queen’s University
  • , O. SamdalAffiliated withResearch Centre for Health Promotion, Faculty of Psychology, University of Bergen
  • , C. W. SchnohrAffiliated withDepartment of Public Health, University of Copenhagen
  • , M. E. de LoozeAffiliated withFaculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Utrecht University
  • , S. Nic GabhainnAffiliated withHealth Promotion Research Centre, National University of Ireland
  • , R. IannottiAffiliated withNational Institute of Child Health and Human Development
  • , M. RasmussenAffiliated withDepartment of Public Health, University of Copenhagen
  • , the International HBSC Study Group

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To describe the methodological development of the HBSC survey since its inception and explore methodological tensions that need to be addressed in the ongoing work on this and other large-scale cross-national surveys.


Using archival data and conversations with members of the network, we collaboratively analysed our joint understandings of the survey’s methodology.


We identified four tensions that are likely to be present in upcoming survey cycles: (1) maintaining quality standards against a background of rapid growth, (2) continuous improvement with limited financial resources, (3) accommodating analysis of trends with the need to improve and adapt questionnaire content, and (4) meeting the differing requirements of scientific and policy audiences.


While these challenges are not trivial, the structure of the HBSC network and its long-term experience in working through such challenges renders it likely that HBSC can provide a model of other similar studies facing these tensions.


Survey development Large-scale surveys Scientific versus policy concerns Cross-national data management