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A Bayesian Approach to Comparing Common Models of Life-Course Epidemiology


Chumbley, Justin; Xu, Wenjia; Potente, Cecilia; Harris, Kathleen M.; & Shanahan, Michael J. (Online ahead of print). A Bayesian Approach to Comparing Common Models of Life-Course Epidemiology. International Journal of Epidemiology.


BACKGROUND: 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).
METHODS: 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.
RESULTS: 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.
CONCLUSIONS: 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.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Article Type


Year Published

Online ahead of print

Journal Title

International Journal of Epidemiology


Chumbley, Justin
Xu, Wenjia
Potente, Cecilia
Harris, Kathleen M.
Shanahan, Michael J.

Data Set/Study

National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health)


United States of America