Background Non-communicable diseases (NCD) account for two thirds of deaths globally, yet the focus of military healthcare has been on the consequences of deployment on mental health and provision of services for those wounded or injured in combat. This study will use the data linkage of a representative military cohort to secondary electronic healthcare records, to estimate the prevalence of NCDs in a UK military population and to identify the most common conditions.
Methods The King’s Centre for Military Health Research (KCMHR) cohort is a large representative study of military personnel. Data was collected in 2004–2006 (Phase 1) and then again in 2007–2009 (Phase 2). Secondary healthcare data on inpatient admissions, outpatient and A&E visits were linked to the KCMHR cohort (using NHS number, name, sex and date of birth), for all Phase 2 participants who consented for access to their medical records (n = 8602). Three separate linkages were conducted for England, Wales and Scotland by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), Secure Anonymised Information Linkage (SAIL) and Information Services Division (ISD), respectively. The prevalence of non-communicable diseases, stratified by sociodemographic factors was derived.
Results The linkages across the three regions resulted in an overall matching rate of 77%. The three most common conditions were gastrointestinal (GI) disorders (5.6%), joint disorders (5.6%) and arthritis/osteoarthritis (2.3%). The most common condition differed by age; joint disorders (5.4%) in the youngest aged group, GI disorders (7.6%) in middle aged adults and GI disorders (9.7%) in the older age group. The most common condition also differed by military rank with joint disorders (5.8%) prevalent in other ranks and non-commissioned officers and GI disorders (6.4%) in the higher ranks, i.e. commissioned officers.
Discussion It is not surprising that joint disorders and arthritis are prevalent in this military population, given the physical demands of the job. This supports findings from the US military. One explanation for the high prevalence of GI disorders could relate to the outbreak of diarrhoea and vomiting during recent deployments. The next steps for this study (to be presented) are to examine deployment and combat exposure, mental health and alcohol misuse from the cohort as predictors of NCDs.