A tutorial on the case time series design for small-area analysis

BMC Med Res Methodol. 2022 Apr 30;22(1):129. doi: 10.1186/s12874-022-01612-x.


Background: The increased availability of data on health outcomes and risk factors collected at fine geographical resolution is one of the main reasons for the rising popularity of epidemiological analyses conducted at small-area level. However, this rich data setting poses important methodological issues related to modelling complexities and computational demands, as well as the linkage and harmonisation of data collected at different geographical levels.

Methods: This tutorial illustrated the extension of the case time series design, originally proposed for individual-level analyses on short-term associations with time-varying exposures, for applications using data aggregated over small geographical areas. The case time series design embeds the longitudinal structure of time series data within the self-matched framework of case-only methods, offering a flexible and highly adaptable analytical tool. The methodology is well suited for modelling complex temporal relationships, and it provides an efficient computational scheme for large datasets including longitudinal measurements collected at a fine geographical level.

Results: The application of the case time series for small-area analyses is demonstrated using a real-data case study to assess the mortality risks associated with high temperature in the summers of 2006 and 2013 in London, UK. The example makes use of information on individual deaths, temperature, and socio-economic characteristics collected at different geographical levels. The tutorial describes the various steps of the analysis, namely the definition of the case time series structure and the linkage of the data, as well as the estimation of the risk associations and the assessment of vulnerability differences. R code and data are made available to fully reproduce the results and the graphical descriptions.

Conclusions: The extension of the case time series for small-area analysis offers a valuable analytical tool that combines modelling flexibility and computational efficiency. The increasing availability of data collected at fine geographical scales provides opportunities for its application to address a wide range of epidemiological questions.

Keywords: Case time series; Distributed lag models; Small-area; Study design; Temperature; Time series.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Environment*
  • Humans
  • London
  • Small-Area Analysis
  • Time Factors