Methodological challenges when estimating the effects of season and seasonal exposures on birth outcomes

Strand, Linn, Barnett, Adrian, & Tong, Shilu (2011) Methodological challenges when estimating the effects of season and seasonal exposures on birth outcomes. BMC Medical Research Methodology, 11(April), pp. 1-8.

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Background Many previous studies have found seasonal patterns in birth outcomes, but with little agreement about which season poses the highest risk. Some of the heterogeneity between studies may be explained by a previously unknown bias. The bias occurs in retrospective cohorts which include all births occurring within a fixed start and end date, which means shorter pregnancies are missed at the start of the study, and longer pregnancies are missed at the end. Our objective was to show the potential size of this bias and how to avoid it.

Methods To demonstrate the bias we simulated a retrospective birth cohort with no seasonal pattern in gestation and used a range of cohort end dates. As a real example, we used a cohort of 114,063 singleton births in Brisbane between 1 July 2005 and 30 June 2009 and examined the bias when estimating changes in gestation length associated with season (using month of conception) and a seasonal exposure (temperature). We used survival analyses with temperature as a time-dependent variable.

Results We found strong artificial seasonal patterns in gestation length by month of conception, which depended on the end date of the study. The bias was avoided when the day and month of the start date was just before the day and month of the end date (regardless of year), so that the longer gestations at the start of the study were balanced by the shorter gestations at the end. After removing the fixed cohort bias there was a noticeable change in the effect of temperature on gestation length. The adjusted hazard ratios were flatter at the extremes of temperature but steeper between 15 and 25°C.

Conclusions Studies using retrospective birth cohorts should account for the fixed cohort bias by removing selected births to get unbiased estimates of seasonal health effects.

Impact and interest:

40 citations in Scopus
40 citations in Web of Science®
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ID Code: 52240
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
DOI: 10.1186/1471-2288-11-49
ISSN: 1471-2288
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES (110000) > PUBLIC HEALTH AND HEALTH SERVICES (111700)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Institutes > Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation
Deposited On: 19 Jul 2012 06:28
Last Modified: 16 Jul 2017 07:01

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