To use or not to use the odds ratio in epidemiologic analyses?

Eur J Epidemiol. 1995 Aug;11(4):365-71. doi: 10.1007/BF01721219.


This paper argues that the use of the odds ratio parameter in epidemiology needs to be considered with a view to the specific study design and the types of exposure and disease data at hand. Frequently, the odds ratio measure is being used instead of the risk ratio or the incidence-proportion ratio in cohort studies or as an estimate for the incidence-density ratio in case-referent studies. Therefore, the analyses of epidemiologic data have produced biased estimates and the presentation of results has been misleading. However, the odds ratio can be relinquished as an effect measure for these study designs; and, the application of the case-base sampling approach permits the incidence ratio and difference measures to be estimated without any untenable assumptions. For the Poisson regression, the odds ratio is not a parameter of interest; only the risk or rate ratio and difference are relevant. For the conditional logistic regression in matched case-referent studies, the odds ratio remains useful, but only when it is interpreted as an estimate of the incidence-density ratio. Thus the odds ratio should, in general, give way to the incidence ratio and difference as the measures of choice for exposure effect in epidemiology.

MeSH terms

  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Epidemiologic Methods*
  • Odds Ratio*
  • Risk