Mismeasurement and the resonance of strong confounders: correlated errors

Am J Epidemiol. 1999 Jul 1;150(1):88-96. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.aje.a009922.


Confounding in epidemiology, and the limits of standard methods of control for an imperfectly measured confounder, have been understood for some time. However, most treatments of this problem are based on the assumption that errors of measurement in confounding and confounded variables are independent. This paper considers the situation in which a strong risk factor (confounder) and an inconsequential but suspected risk factor (confounded) are each measured with errors that are correlated; the situation appears especially likely to occur in the field of nutritional epidemiology. Error correlation appears to add little to measurement error as a source of bias in estimating the impact of a strong risk factor: it can add to, diminish, or reverse the bias induced by measurement error in estimating the impact of the inconsequential risk factor. Correlation of measurement errors can add to the difficulty involved in evaluating structures in which confounding and measurement error are present. In its presence, observed correlations among risk factors can be greater than, less than, or even opposite to the true correlations. Interpretation of multivariate epidemiologic structures in which confounding is likely requires evaluation of measurement error structures, including correlations among measurement errors.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Bias*
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic*
  • Diet Surveys
  • Energy Intake
  • Epidemiologic Methods*
  • Humans
  • Nutrition Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Nutrition Disorders / etiology
  • Odds Ratio
  • Regression Analysis
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Risk Factors