Genetic epidemiology is a rapidly expanding research field, but the implications of findings from such studies for individual or population health are unclear. The use of molecular genetic screening currently has some legitimacy in certain monogenic conditions, but no established value with respect to common complex diseases. Personalised medical care based on molecular genetic testing is also as yet undeveloped for common diseases. Genetic epidemiology can contribute to establishing the causal nature of environmentally modifiable risk factors, through the application of mendelian randomisation approaches and thus contribute to appropriate preventive strategies. Technological and other advances will allow the potential of genetic epidemiology to be revealed over the next few years, and the establishment of large population-based resources for such studies (biobanks) should contribute to this endeavour.