Effect measures in prevalence studies

Environ Health Perspect. 2004 Jul;112(10):1047-50. doi: 10.1289/ehp.6927.


There is still considerable confusion and debate about the appropriate methods for analyzing prevalence studies, and a number of recent papers have argued that prevalence ratios are the preferred method and that prevalence odds ratios should not be used. These arguments assert that the prevalence ratio is obviously the better measure and the odds ratio is "unintelligible." They have often been accompanied by demonstrations that when a disease is common the prevalence ratio and the prevalence odds ratio may differ substantially. However, this does not tell us which measure is the more valid to use. In fact, the prevalence odds ratio a) estimates the incidence rate ratio with fewer assumptions than are required for the prevalence ratio; b) can be estimated using the same methods as for the odds ratio in case-control studies, namely, the Mantel-Haenszel method and logistic regression; and c) provides practical, analytical, and theoretical consistency between analyses of a prevalence study and prevalence case-control analyses based on the same study population. For these reasons, the prevalence odds ratio will continue to be one of the standard methods for analyzing prevalence studies and prevalence case-control studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Case-Control Studies
  • Environmental Pollutants / poisoning
  • Epidemiologic Studies*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Odds Ratio*
  • Prevalence
  • Research Design
  • Risk Assessment


  • Environmental Pollutants