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      To GEE or Not to GEE : Comparing Population Average and Mixed Models for Estimating the Associations Between Neighborhood Risk Factors and Health

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          Abstract

          Two modeling approaches are commonly used to estimate the associations between neighborhood characteristics and individual-level health outcomes in multilevel studies (subjects within neighborhoods). Random effects models (or mixed models) use maximum likelihood estimation. Population average models typically use a generalized estimating equation (GEE) approach. These methods are used in place of basic regression approaches because the health of residents in the same neighborhood may be correlated, thus violating independence assumptions made by traditional regression procedures. This violation is particularly relevant to estimates of the variability of estimates. Though the literature appears to favor the mixed-model approach, little theoretical guidance has been offered to justify this choice. In this paper, we review the assumptions behind the estimates and inference provided by these 2 approaches. We propose a perspective that treats regression models for what they are in most circumstances: reasonable approximations of some true underlying relationship. We argue in general that mixed models involve unverifiable assumptions on the data-generating distribution, which lead to potentially misleading estimates and biased inference. We conclude that the estimation-equation approach of population average models provides a more useful approximation of the truth.

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          The (mis)estimation of neighborhood effects: causal inference for a practicable social epidemiology.

          The resurgence of interest in the effect of neighborhood contexts on health outcomes, motivated by advances in social epidemiology, multilevel theories and sophisticated statistical models, too often fails to confront the enormous methodological problems associated with causal inference. This paper employs the counterfactual causal framework to illuminate fundamental obstacles in the identification, explanation, and usefulness of multilevel neighborhood effect studies. We show that identifying useful independent neighborhood effect parameters, as currently conceptualized with observational data, to be impossible. Along with the development of a dependency-based methodology and theories of social interaction, randomized community trials are advocated as a superior research strategy, one that may help social epidemiology answer the causal questions necessary for remediating disparities and otherwise improving the public's health.
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            Area, Class and Health: Should we be Focusing on Places or People?

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              Fixed effects, random effects and GEE: what are the differences?

              For analyses of longitudinal repeated-measures data, statistical methods include the random effects model, fixed effects model and the method of generalized estimating equations. We examine the assumptions that underlie these approaches to assessing covariate effects on the mean of a continuous, dichotomous or count outcome. Access to statistical software to implement these models has led to widespread application in numerous disciplines. However, careful consideration should be paid to their critical assumptions to ascertain which model might be appropriate in a given setting. To illustrate similarities and differences that might exist in empirical results, we use a study that assessed depressive symptoms in low-income pregnant women using a structured instrument with up to five assessments that spanned the pre-natal and post-natal periods. Understanding the conceptual differences between the methods is important in their proper application even though empirically they might not differ substantively. The choice of model in specific applications would depend on the relevant questions being addressed, which in turn informs the type of design and data collection that would be relevant. Copyright (c) 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Epidemiology
                Epidemiology
                Ovid Technologies (Wolters Kluwer Health)
                1044-3983
                2010
                July 2010
                : 21
                : 4
                : 467-474
                Article
                10.1097/EDE.0b013e3181caeb90
                20220526
                © 2010
                Product

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