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Community Dent Oral Epidemiol. 2002 Dec;30(6):399-404.

Directed acyclic graphs (DAGs): an aid to assess confounding in dental research.

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1
Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Department of Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Boston, MA 02115, USA. amerchan@hsph.harvard.edu

Abstract

Confounding, a special type of bias, occurs when an extraneous factor is associated with the exposure and independently affects the outcome. In order to get an unbiased estimate of the exposure-outcome relationship, we need to identify potential confounders, collect information on them, design appropriate studies, and adjust for confounding in data analysis. However, it is not always clear which variables to collect information on and adjust for in the analyses. Inappropriate adjustment for confounding can even introduce bias where none existed. Directed acyclic graphs (DAGs) provide a method to select potential confounders and minimize bias in the design and analysis of epidemiological studies. DAGs have been used extensively in expert systems and robotics. Robins (1987) introduced the application of DAGs in epidemiology to overcome shortcomings of traditional methods to control for confounding, especially as they related to unmeasured confounding. DAGs provide a quick and visual way to assess confounding without making parametric assumptions. We introduce DAGs, starting with definitions and rules for basic manipulation, stressing more on applications than theory. We then demonstrate their application in the control of confounding through examples of observational and cross-sectional epidemiological studies.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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