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PLoS One. 2017 Jun 7;12(6):e0179032. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0179032. eCollection 2017.

Statistical methods used in the public health literature and implications for training of public health professionals.

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School of Public Health, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA, United States of America.
Department of Sociology, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA, United States of America.
Center for Surveillance, Epidemiology and Laboratory Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA, United States of America.


Statistical literacy and knowledge is needed to read and understand the public health literature. The purpose of this study was to quantify basic and advanced statistical methods used in public health research. We randomly sampled 216 published articles from seven top tier general public health journals. Studies were reviewed by two readers and a standardized data collection form completed for each article. Data were analyzed with descriptive statistics and frequency distributions. Results were summarized for statistical methods used in the literature, including descriptive and inferential statistics, modeling, advanced statistical techniques, and statistical software used. Approximately 81.9% of articles reported an observational study design and 93.1% of articles were substantively focused. Descriptive statistics in table or graphical form were reported in more than 95% of the articles, and statistical inference reported in more than 76% of the studies reviewed. These results reveal the types of statistical methods currently used in the public health literature. Although this study did not obtain information on what should be taught, information on statistical methods being used is useful for curriculum development in graduate health sciences education, as well as making informed decisions about continuing education for public health professionals.

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