Report on the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) Age 17 Survey: Consultative Conference

I recently attended the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS7) Age 17 Survey: Consultative one day conference held at UCL’s Institute of Education in London. Cohort studies are extremely valuable because data is collected over time working with the same sample of people. Longitudinal studies permit to describe the natural history of the same population and can identify risk factors for example, for optimal health, educational attainment chances and/or employment opportunities. Professor Emla Fitzsimons is the Principal Investigator of MCS,m strategically invited leaders of the ‘Activities and Daily Life’, ‘Cognitive Development’, and the ‘Socio-Emotional Development’ to harness conference delegates’ view on what are the important and key issues that society should know when examining 17 year old adolescents’ lives. The leaders provided an overview of their current strategies for capturing participants’ unique style of life. Then through a series of workshops the pros and cons of these were discussed and summarised. I don’t envy their jobs! To study the individual characteristics and the associated environmental factors in such a large sample is a huge undertaking. The attendees were from very varied inter- and multi-disciplinary backgrounds working at a wide range of organisations, including government agencies. The common objective was to create a dataset that can inform many governmental policies on a variety of topics. The process of decision making over every aspects of the 7th sweep of the MCS is extremely complex. The key aspect of longitudinal studies is comparability. Although, each sweep is unique because of the cohort is ageing, there has to be a trend of using the same methodology overtime. Studies like the MCS are facing constant funding crises because they are very expensive to run. There is an ongoing revision of time taken to collect data, finding proxy to gold standard measures and considering cutting expensive data collection methods like, FMRI scans, use of accelerometers to assess physical activity patterns and conducting physical tests. Despite all of these difficulties, data from such studies are invaluable. For example, in the 7th sweep they want to omit interviewing parents about their child’s mental health. I argued to include this data at this sweep, as most adolescents in the study are still living at home and others (like family members) are the ones most likely to identify early signs of mental health problems. Early detection is vital, especially when 1 in 10 adolescents known to develop at least one serious depressive episode in the UK by the time they are 18. Check out the MCS website if you are interested. You can also access all speakers’ slides by following the link ( Data from the previous 6 sweeps are available for researchers to interrogate.