The model, which influenced Hawthorne, was the mass screening approach used to control TB in the post-war years. He applied the same principle, covering a healthy population within a community rather than an ‘at risk’ sample, to detect a much wider range of chronic disease and disability.
The first study, developed in conjunction with the ‘Whitehall’ study of civil servants in Greater London, was carried out in 1964-68 and based in 13 workplaces in the West of Scotland (sample size 3931), with a smaller population study within Tiree and relatives who had emigrated to Glasgow, with a sample of 762.
The second, workplace based study was carried out in 1970-73 and with 27 workplaces. It was part of a larger international study by WHO Euro to investigate at population level ischaemic heart disease and hypertension and with a sample of 7028 men and women.
The third study, 1972-76 was a population-based study - men and women - centred in the towns of Renfrew and Paisley, in the West of Scotland and with a sample of 15402 men and women. Each of the first three cohorts were followed up. The MIDSPAN family study, carried out later in 1996, involved 1040 sons and 1298 daughters of the original families from the third study.
Several features made MIDSPAN special: first, the study population included women, making it unique in the UK in providing a general population sample of women with long-term follow-up; secondly, the inclusion of over 4000 married couples, which led the way to the later family study; thirdly, the overall high response rate meant that the sample was reasonably representative of populations living and working in areas of high socio-economic deprivation and early mortality.
While Hawthorne established the studies, other academics and researchers have continued to run and analyse the studies. Between 1964 and 2005 over 175 research papers directly using the Midspan data were published in a wide variety of peer-reviewed scientific journals and covered an extensive range of topics - medical, scientific, sociological, psychological, and epidemiological.