A Bayesian approach to comparing common models of life-course epidemiology

J Chumbley, WJ Xu, C Potente, Kathleen Mullan Harris, Michael J Shanahan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
6 Downloads (Pure)


Life-course epidemiology studies people’s health over long periods, treating repeated measures of their experiences (usually risk factors) as predictors or causes of subsequent morbidity and mortality. Three hypotheses or models often guide the analyst in assessing these sequential risks: the accumulation model (all measurement occasions are equally important for predicting the outcome), the critical period model (only one occasion is important) and the sensitive periods model (a catch-all model for any other pattern of temporal dependence).

We propose a Bayesian omnibus test of these three composite models, as well as post hoc decompositions that identify their best respective sub-models. We test the approach via simulations, before presenting an empirical example that relates five sequential measurements of body weight to an RNAseq measure of colorectal-cancer disposition.

The approach correctly identifies the life-course model under which the data were simulated. Our empirical cohort study indicated with >90% probability that colorectal-cancer disposition reflected a sensitive process, with current weight being most important but prior body weight also playing a role.

The Bayesian methods we present allow precise inferences about the probability of life-course models given the data and are applicable in realistic scenarios involving causal analysis and missing data.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1660-1670
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding information:
This research was supported by R01-HD087061 and the Jacobs Center for Productive Youth Development at the University of Zurich. We use data from Add Health, a project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill and funded by grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations.

VC The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Epidemiological Association.


Dive into the research topics of 'A Bayesian approach to comparing common models of life-course epidemiology'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this