A Two-Step Approach for Analysis of Nonignorable Missing Outcomes in Longitudinal Regression: an Application to Upstate KIDS Study

Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol. 2017 Sep;31(5):468-478. doi: 10.1111/ppe.12382. Epub 2017 Aug 2.


Background: Imperfect follow-up in longitudinal studies commonly leads to missing outcome data that can potentially bias the inference when the missingness is nonignorable; that is, the propensity of missingness depends on missing values in the data. In the Upstate KIDS Study, we seek to determine if the missingness of child development outcomes is nonignorable, and how a simple model assuming ignorable missingness would compare with more complicated models for a nonignorable mechanism.

Methods: To correct for nonignorable missingness, the shared random effects model (SREM) jointly models the outcome and the missing mechanism. However, the computational complexity and lack of software packages has limited its practical applications. This paper proposes a novel two-step approach to handle nonignorable missing outcomes in generalized linear mixed models. We first analyse the missing mechanism with a generalized linear mixed model and predict values of the random effects; then, the outcome model is fitted adjusting for the predicted random effects to account for heterogeneity in the missingness propensity.

Results: Extensive simulation studies suggest that the proposed method is a reliable approximation to SREM, with a much faster computation. The nonignorability of missing data in the Upstate KIDS Study is estimated to be mild to moderate, and the analyses using the two-step approach or SREM are similar to the model assuming ignorable missingness.

Conclusions: The two-step approach is a computationally straightforward method that can be conducted as sensitivity analyses in longitudinal studies to examine violations to the ignorable missingness assumption and the implications relative to health outcomes.

Keywords: longitudinal data; maximum likelihood; nonignorable missing outcomes; shared random effect model; two-step estimation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Bias
  • Child Development*
  • Child Health*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Computer Simulation
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Models, Statistical
  • Reproductive Techniques, Assisted*
  • United States