Modeling and variable selection in epidemiologic analysis

Am J Public Health. 1989 Mar;79(3):340-9. doi: 10.2105/ajph.79.3.340.


This paper provides an overview of problems in multivariate modeling of epidemiologic data, and examines some proposed solutions. Special attention is given to the task of model selection, which involves selection of the model form, selection of the variables to enter the model, and selection of the form of these variables in the model. Several conclusions are drawn, among them: a) model and variable forms should be selected based on regression diagnostic procedures, in addition to goodness-of-fit tests; b) variable-selection algorithms in current packaged programs, such as conventional stepwise regression, can easily lead to invalid estimates and tests of effect; and c) variable selection is better approached by direct estimation of the degree of confounding produced by each variable than by significance-testing algorithms. As a general rule, before using a model to estimate effects, one should evaluate the assumptions implied by the model against both the data and prior information.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Epidemiologic Methods*
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Sampling Studies
  • Statistics as Topic