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Obesity as a case study

To demonstrate the potential of the developed methodology, it was applied to a corpus of epidemiological research abstracts related to obesity. Obesity was chosen as a case study because:

a) it has emerged as one of the most important global health problems of the 21st century.

b) it includes risk factors of various nature.

- sedentary lifestyle (smoking, alcohol and fast food consumption), physical inactivity, genetics, gender, age, socioeconomic status

c) it shares underlying links with many diseases either a contributor to other morbidities or as a health consequence.

- coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, various forms of cancer, depression, mortality, atherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes

d) it affects people of all ages, locations, genders and ethnicities.

e) it contains a wealth of related epidemiological data available for research (e.g., PubMed,


Epidemiology is a relatively structured field with its own dictionary and reporting style, deliberately written in a typical semi-structured format in order to standardize and improve study design, communication and collaboration internationally. Typical key characteristics that detail the followed hypothesis in epidemiological literature were adapted from The Dictionary of Epidemiology (Last, 2011) and are sufficient for the cross-disciplinary nature of this research and defined as:

  1. study design: a specific plan or protocol that has been followed for the conduction of the study; it allows the investigator to translate their conceptual hypothesis into an operational one e.g., “prospective birth cohort study", “triple blind randomized clinical trial".

  2. population: details of the individuals (e.g., gender, age, ethnicity, nationality) participating in an epidemiological study are important in comprehending the context of the study – this is referred to as "the defined population".

  3. exposure: a factor, event, characteristic or other definable entity that brings about change in a health condition, or in other defined characteristics. Typical exposures include environmental, social and behavioural factors or specific biological and clinical ones.

  4. outcome: the consequence from the exposure in the population of interest; it could be of biological or health in nature. Table 18 provides some examples of outcomes in epidemiological text.

  5. covariate: a factor that is possibly predictive of the outcome under study. It could be of a direct interest to the study or may be a confounding variable affecting the outcome of the study itself without knowing the exact effect. A covariate could be a concept of various nature (from biological to clinical and environmental).

  6. effect size: the measure of the strength of the relationship between two variables in the studied population. Standard measures include hazard ratio, (adjusted) odds ratio, relative risk, prevalence and incidence.


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