A cohort study
is a particular form of longitudinal study
that samples a cohort
(a group of people who share a defining characteristic, typically those who experienced a common event in a selected period, such as birth or graduation), performing a cross-section
at intervals through time. While a cohort study is a panel study, a panel study
is not always a cohort study as individuals in a panel study do not always share a common characteristic.
Cohort studies represent one of the fundamental designs of epidemiology
which are used in research in the fields of medicine
, social science
, and in any field reliant on 'difficult to reach' answers that are based on evidence (statistics
). In medicine for instance, while clinical trials are used primarily for assessing the safety of newly developed pharmaceuticals before they are approved for sale, epidemiological analysis on how risk factors affect the incidence of diseases is often used to identify the causes of diseases in the first place, and to help provide pre-clinical justification for the plausibility of protective factors (treatments). Cohort studies differ from clinical trials in that no intervention, treatment, or exposure is administered to participants in a cohort design; and no control group is defined. Rather, cohort studies are largely about the life histories of segments of populations, and the individual people who constitute these segments. Exposures or protective factors are identified as preexisting characteristics of participants. The study is controlled by including other common characteristics of the cohort in the statistical analysis. Both exposure/treatment and control variables are measured at baseline. Participants are then followed over time to observe the incidence rate of the disease or outcome in question. Regression analysis can then be used to evaluate the extent to which the exposure or treatment variable contributes to the incidence of the disease, while accounting for other variables that may be at play. Read more...