Following lives – a guest post from the FCO Science & Innovation Network

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Opinion

Reblogged from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office Science & Innovation Network blog

I have been intrigued by Cohort studies ever since I learnt about it when I was working on colonies of ants during my M.Sc.

In the last few months, I have learnt quite a lot about cohort studies in humans. Especially during the last two workshops that we had organised with partner organisations – one on Ageing and the other on Mental Health.

I also learnt about the Longitudinal Studies conducted in the past and plans for future long term cohort studies, especially in the area of mental health and ageing. What amazed me during my visit to the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) at the Institute of Education, University of London in March was the amount of expertise available in UK for carrying out such studies.

I was drawn to several impressive pieces of cohort work in the UK by Rosie French, Project Manager at the Institute of Education, London. One was the 1970 British Cohort Study. This involved following the lives of over 17,000 people born in Great Britain in one week in 1970. Over a period of 40 years these people as they grew were tracked and studied for various health, social, cultural and economic parameters. The method of data collection consisted of face-to-face interviews (with the parents), self-completion questionnaires and psychological and educational measurements. This elaborate study has made a rich contribution to research and policy making in Britain, and an insight into the lives of people and society.

The other interesting study was the recent Millennium Cohort Study which is following the lives of 18,819 babies born in 2000 -01. The study has been tracking these children through their early childhood years and plans to follow them into adulthood. It collects information on the children’s siblings and parents. MCS’s field of enquiry covers such diverse topics as parenting; childcare; school choice; child behaviour and cognitive development; child and parental health; parents’ employment and education; income and poverty; housing, neighbourhood and residential mobility; and social capital and ethnicity. Research questions that can be explored using such data include poverty and its impact on cognitive development, child obesity, maternal employment and impact on child development.

All these studies mean generation of large number of datasets which in many cases may be collected differently and, therefore, not fit neatly together. This can make deriving meaningful insights and conclusions difficult, and also decrease ability of making analysis across cohort studies. So in 2012, another interesting programme called CLOSER was launched funded by the ESRC and MRC. CLOSER is expanded as Cohort and Longitudinal Studies Enhancement Resources and aims to maximise the use, value and impact of these cohort studies both within the UK and abroad. It works in the area of data harmonisation, linking cohort data to other administrative/health/geographical data, maximising research impact, developing a uniform search engine for easy access for researchers and training and capacity building.

The CLS is very keen to forge international Links and I hope that UK and India could work closely in this area. For instance, the CLOSER work has so much relevance to some of the longitudinal studies being planned in India. I believe that there is a lot to share between both countries for the common good and some of the research planned between both countries in the area of public health and wellbeing.