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Journal Articles BMC Medical Research Methodology Year : 2021

Time-varying associations between an exposure history and a subsequent health outcome: a landmark approach to identify critical windows

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Abstract

Background: Long-term behavioral and health risk factors constitute a primary focus of research on the etiology of chronic diseases. Yet, identifying critical time-windows during which risk factors have the strongest impact on disease risk is challenging. To assess the trajectory of association of an exposure history with an outcome, the weighted cumulative exposure index (WCIE) has been proposed, with weights reflecting the relative importance of exposures at different times. However, WCIE is restricted to a complete observed error-free exposure whereas exposures are often measured with intermittent missingness and error. Moreover, it rarely explores exposure history that is very distant from the outcome as usually sought in life-course epidemiology. Methods: We extend the WCIE methodology to (i) exposures that are intermittently measured with error, and (ii) contexts where the exposure time-window precedes the outcome time-window using a landmark approach. First, the individual exposure history up to the landmark time is estimated using a mixed model that handles missing data and error in exposure measurement, and the predicted complete error-free exposure history is derived. Then the WCIE methodology is applied to assess the trajectory of association between the predicted exposure history and the health outcome collected after the landmark time. In our context, the health outcome is a longitudinal marker analyzed using a mixed model. Results: A simulation study first demonstrates the correct inference obtained with this approach. Then, applied to the Nurses' Health Study (19,415 women) to investigate the association between body mass index history (collected from midlife) and subsequent cognitive decline (evaluated after age 70), the method identified two major critical windows of association: long before the first cognitive evaluation (roughly 24 to 12 years), higher levels of BMI were associated with poorer cognition. In contrast, adjusted for the whole history, higher levels of BMI became associated with better cognition in the last years prior to the first cognitive interview, thus reflecting reverse causation (changes in exposure due to underlying disease). Conclusions: This approach, easy to implement, provides a flexible tool for studying complex dynamic relationships and identifying critical time windows while accounting for exposure measurement errors.
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inserm-03477452 , version 1 (13-12-2021)

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Maude Wagner, Francine Grodstein, Karen Leffondre, Cécilia Samieri, Cécile Proust-Lima. Time-varying associations between an exposure history and a subsequent health outcome: a landmark approach to identify critical windows. BMC Medical Research Methodology, 2021, 21 (1), pp.266. ⟨10.1186/s12874-021-01403-w⟩. ⟨inserm-03477452⟩

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