Methodology Series Module 3: Cross-sectional Studies

Indian J Dermatol. 2016 May-Jun;61(3):261-4. doi: 10.4103/0019-5154.182410.


Cross-sectional study design is a type of observational study design. In a cross-sectional study, the investigator measures the outcome and the exposures in the study participants at the same time. Unlike in case-control studies (participants selected based on the outcome status) or cohort studies (participants selected based on the exposure status), the participants in a cross-sectional study are just selected based on the inclusion and exclusion criteria set for the study. Once the participants have been selected for the study, the investigator follows the study to assess the exposure and the outcomes. Cross-sectional designs are used for population-based surveys and to assess the prevalence of diseases in clinic-based samples. These studies can usually be conducted relatively faster and are inexpensive. They may be conducted either before planning a cohort study or a baseline in a cohort study. These types of designs will give us information about the prevalence of outcomes or exposures; this information will be useful for designing the cohort study. However, since this is a 1-time measurement of exposure and outcome, it is difficult to derive causal relationships from cross-sectional analysis. We can estimate the prevalence of disease in cross-sectional studies. Furthermore, we will also be able to estimate the odds ratios to study the association between exposure and the outcomes in this design.

Keywords: Cross-sectional studies; design; limitations; strengths.