An enduring legacy
One of the exciting potentials of cohort studies is that the collected data can be used by other researchers to address questions that are important to their areas of interest—for years to come.
“Junior faculty, post-doctoral fellows, and senior investigators are using our resources in other studies—genetics, nutrition,” notes Vanderbilt’s Wei Zheng, M.D., Ph.D., MPH, who directs the Shanghai Women’s Health Study. “So the cohort studies create opportunities for other research.”
Harvard’s Walter Willett, M.D., MPH, Dr.P.H., who launched the second Nurses’ Health Study in 1989, echoes that sentiment. “We started mostly with a focus on cancer and heart disease, but now we’re looking at virtually every major condition, including psychological effects, kidney stones you name it.”
For example, the study has found that a diet high in sugar-sweetened and diet soft drinks, refined grains and processed meat can raise the risk of developing type 2 diabetes; and that obesity and weight gain increase the risk of kidney stone formation.
Emily Beauregard sees the potential for a psychological study based on a trend she’s noticed while enrolling people into the Southern Community Cohort Study at the Family Health Center’s Portland Clinic in Louisville, Ky.
“Most of our patients’ (annual) household income is less than $15,000,” she says. Many “have been diagnosed with depression ... Education, housing, emotional health—everything plays into your well-being.”