What are the long-term effects of fertility education on knowledge and reproductive outcome?
Participants in the intervention group retained some knowledge after 2 years and the partnered women had a new child more quickly than the comparison group.
Fertility education improves knowledge, at least in the short-term. Attitudes toward childbearing and its timing can change after exposure to educational materials.
Participants were recruited via an online social research panel. In the original randomized controlled trial (RCT), knowledge of reproductive-aged participants was assessed before (T1) and immediately after (T2) receiving one of three information brochures: fertility (intervention group), healthy pre-pregnancy (focused on intake of folic acid during pregnancy, control group 1), or family policies in Japan (childcare provision, control group 2). The present follow-up study was conducted 2 years later in January 2017 (T3) with the same participants.
Of the T1 participants (n = 1455), 383 men and 360 women (51%) responded to the T3 survey. Fertility knowledge measured with the Japanese version of the Cardiff Fertility Knowledge Scale (CFKS-J) and fertility status (e.g. new births, new medical consultations, and the timing of new birth) was assessed.
Baseline (T1) characteristics of the T3 participants were well balanced between groups, but T3 participants were older, married, and more educated compared to those lost to follow-up. A repeated-measures analysis of variance showed significant knowledge gains among the intervention group from T1 to T3 (11.2% and 7.0% among men and women, respectively) but no significant change over time for the control groups. There were no differences between groups in the incidence of new births or new medical consultations. However, subgroup analysis showed that timing of new births was accelerated for partnered individuals in the intervention group. Specifically, the proportion of partnered participants at T1 who had a new birth in the first year subsequent to presentation of information was higher in the intervention group versus control group 1 (folic acid): 8.8% versus 1.4% (P = 0.09) among men and 10.6% versus 2.3% (P = 0.03) among women, respectively. The odds ratios (adjusted for age) were 7.8 (95% CI: 0.86-70.7) and 5.2 (95% CI: 1.09-25.0) among men and women, respectively. The timing of births and the proportion of new births during the 2-year follow-up period in the intervention group were similar to that of control group 2 (family policy). The incidence of new medical consultation was higher in the male intervention group (12.0%) than in male control group 2 (family policy, 1.5%, P = 0.04) but similar among women in all groups.
First, the high attrition rate may limit the generalizability of these findings for longer-term acquisition of fertility knowledge, especially when applied to younger people who were more likely to be lost to follow-up. Second, this is a 2-year follow-up study and the results may change in the longer-term. Finally, we relied on self-reported questionnaire data and there is a possibility that some women were unknowingly pregnant at T1 but this risk should be distributed equally in the three groups through randomization.
Effects of one-time education were limited but retained beyond baseline levels. Importantly, education was found to potentially accelerate decision-making about achieving births in partnered subgroups compared to receiving healthy pre-pregnancy information. However, this finding should be confirmed in future stratified RCTs designed to evaluate effects in these subgroups. Follow-up 'booster' education sessions might help people retain knowledge and facilitate reproductive decisions for longer. In view of the high attrition rate, especially among young populations, novel educational strategies to retain young people in fertility education cohorts should be explored.
This study was funded by National Center for Child Health and Development, the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, Pfizer Health Research Foundation, and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. E.M. reports joint research funds from a public interest incorporated foundation '1 more Baby Ohendan.'