A Bayesian functional approach to test models of life course epidemiology over continuous time

Julien Bodelet*, Cecilia Potente, Guillaume Blanc, Justin Chumbley, Hira Imeri, Scott Hofer, Kathleen Mullan Harris, Graciela Muniz-Terrera, Michael Shanahan

*Corresponding author for this work

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Life course epidemiology examines associations between repeated measures of risk and health outcomes across different phases of life. Empirical research, however, is often based on discrete-time models that assume that sporadic measurement occasions fully capture underlying long-term continuous processes of risk.


We propose (i) the functional relevant life course model (fRLM), which treats repeated, discrete measures of risk as unobserved continuous processes, and (ii) a testing procedure to assign probabilities that the data correspond to conceptual models of life course epidemiology (critical period, sensitive period and accumulation models). The performance of the fRLM is evaluated with simulations, and the approach is illustrated with empirical applications relating body mass index (BMI) to mRNA-seq signatures of chronic kidney disease, inflammation and breast cancer.


Simulations reveal that fRLM identifies the correct life course model with three to five repeated assessments of risk and 400 subjects. The empirical examples reveal that chronic kidney disease reflects a critical period process and inflammation and breast cancer likely reflect sensitive period mechanisms.


The proposed fRLM treats repeated measures of risk as continuous processes and, under realistic data scenarios, the method provides accurate probabilities that the data correspond to commonly studied models of life course epidemiology. fRLM is implemented with publicly-available software.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberdyad190
JournalInternational Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2024

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) 2024. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Epidemiological Association.


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