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Am J Epidemiol. 2018 Jan 1;187(1):125-134. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwx193.

Bias in Hazard Ratios Arising From Misclassification According to Self-Reported Weight and Height in Observational Studies of Body Mass Index and Mortality.

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Division of Health and Nutrition Examination Statistics, National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hyattsville, Maryland.
Prevention Research Center, School of Medicine, Stanford University, Palo Alto, California.
Biostatistics Branch, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland.


Misclassification of body mass index (BMI) categories arising from self-reported weight and height can bias hazard ratios in studies of BMI and mortality. We examined the effects on hazard ratios of such misclassification using national US survey data for 1976 through 2010 that had both measured and self-reported weight and height along with mortality follow-up for 48,763 adults and a subset of 17,405 healthy never-smokers. BMI was categorized as <22.5 (low), 22.5-24.9 (referent), 25.0-29.9 (overweight), 30.0-34.9 (class I obesity), and ≥35.0 (class II-III obesity). Misreporting at higher BMI categories tended to bias hazard ratios upwards for those categories, but that effect was augmented, counterbalanced, or even reversed by misreporting in other BMI categories, in particular those that affected the reference category. For example, among healthy male never-smokers, misclassifications affecting the overweight and the reference categories changed the hazard ratio for overweight from 0.85 with measured data to 1.24 with self-reported data. Both the magnitude and direction of bias varied according to the underlying hazard ratios in measured data, showing that findings on bias from one study should not be extrapolated to a study with different underlying hazard ratios. Because of misclassification effects, self-reported weight and height cannot reliably indicate the lowest-risk BMI category.


NHANES; body mass index; body weight; epidemiologic methods; mortality; obesity; overweight; self-report

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