Background: Standard approaches to assessing exposures for epidemiologic studies tend to concentrate resources on obtaining detailed data for each study participant at the expense of characterizing within-person variability.
Methods: This paper presents some basic, generalizeable concepts concerning exposure and its variability, describes methods that can be used to analyze, describe, and understand that variability, and reviews related implications for the design and interpretation of epidemiologic studies.
Results and conclusions: Insufficient attention to the balance of within- and between-person variation in exposure can reduce the efficiency of measurement efforts and attenuate estimates of exposure-disease association. Exposure variability should consequently be considered carefully in the planning, analysis, and interpretation of epidemiologic studies. Greater attention to these matters can lead to more meaningful characterization of exposure itself, and, most importantly, improve the chances that epidemiologic studies can identify and accurately characterize health hazards.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.