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Third Short Course on Strengthening Causal Inference in Behavioral Obesity Research

Held On:    Mon 7/24/2017 - Fri 7/28/2017   
Location:    The University of Alabama at Birmingham
Executive Learning Center (ELC)
6th floor
1705 University Blvd, SPHB 640
Birmingham AL 35233   
Lodging Options:
(within walking distance)
    Residence Inn Birmingham
821 20th St S
Birmingham, AL 35205-2713
(205) 731-9595

Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Birmingham
808 South 20th Street
Birmingham, AL  35205
(205) 933-9000

Homewood Suites by Hilton Birmingham Downtown
1016 20th Street South
Birmingham, Alabama, 35205
(205) 703-9920; fax (205) 703-9921

Course Directors:   
David Allison, PhD

University of Alabama
at Birmingham    Kevin Fontaine, PhD

University of Alabama
at Birmingham     

  • Overview
  • Speakers
  • Contact


The identification of causal relations is fundamental to a science of intervention and prevention. Obesity is a major problem for which much progress in understanding, treatment, and prevention remains to be made. Understanding which social and behavioral factors cause variations in adiposity and which other factors cause variations is vital to producing, evaluating, and selecting among intervention and prevention strategies as well as to understanding obesity’s root causes, requiring input from disciplines including statistics, economics, psychology, epidemiology, mathematics, philosophy, and in some cases behavioral or statistical genetics. The application of these techniques, however, does not involve routine well-known ‘cookbook’ approaches but requires understanding of underlying principles, so the investigator can tailor approaches to specific and varying situations. The nine course modules provide rigorous exposure to the key fundamental principles underlying a broad array of techniques and experience in applying those principles and techniques through guided discussion of real examples in obesity research.

Schedule of Events:  [ PDF file]

Mon 7/24/2017   
8:00-8:15    Registration        
8:15- 8:45    Welcoming & Introductory remarks    Allison & Fontaine     
8:45- 9:00    Attendee introductions     
Module 1: Introduction to Basic Language, Terms, and Concepts in Statistics and Design.   
9:00-9:45    Intro to Statistical Inference (mainly frequentist, with a little Bayesian; covariate and propensity score adjustment, etc.)    David Redden    video    
9:45-10:00    BREAK     
10:00-10:45    Intro to Energy Balance and Laws of Thermodynamics    Diana Thomas    video    
10:45-11:30    Study Designs & Quantifying Effect and Association Size    Christopher Haddock    video    
11:30-12:30    LUNCH     
Module 2: Conventional Observational Studies: Advantages, Limits, and Best Practices   
12:30-1:15    Best Practices – Ethical Use, Hill’s Guidelines, Negative Controls, Meta-Analysis, Public Data Availability, etc.    Douglas Weed    video    
1:15-1:45    Advantages    Bertha Hidalgo    video    
1:45-2:15    Limits I – Theory: Bias and Confounding    Dominick Alexander     
2:15- 2:30    BREAK     
2:30-3:30    Interactive Activity - Causal inference on BMI change and mortality in humans.    Tapan Mehta & David Allison     
3:30-4:00    Limits II – Empirical: Evidence & Cases Studies of Confirmation and Non-Confirmation of Observational Study- Generated Hypotheses    Andrew Brown     
4:00-5:00    Moderated Discussion and Wrap-up   
6:30    Dinner – Short Course meet & greet (voluntary)   
Tue 7/25/2017   
Module 3: Randomized Controlled Experiments – I   
9:00-9:10    Theory: Potential Outcomes    David B Allison    video    
9:10-10:00    Methods for Randomization (including cluster randomization, stratified, choice of allocation ratios, adaptive, etc.)    Scarlett Bellamy    video    
10:00-10:45    Power & Sample Size Calculation    Charity Morgan     
10:45-11:15    Choice of Control Condition based on Hypothesis and Anticipated Claims    Kevin Fontaine    video    
11:15-11:30    BREAK     
11:30-12:00    Controlling for Expectancy and Non-Specific Effects    Peter Hendricks    video    
12:00-1:00    LUNCH     
Module 4: Randomized Controlled Experiments – II   
1:00-1:45    Interactive Activity Mini-Debates:
“Intention to Treat (ITT) vs Per Protocol”    Gary Cutter
George Howard    video    
1:45-2:30    Practical Challenges: Measurement Error, Missing Data, Assumption Violations, etc.    Diane Catellier    video    
2:30-2:45    BREAK     
2:45-3:45    Ethical Issues in RCEs    Theodore K. Kyle    video    
3:45-4:15    Procedural Elements: Trial Registration, Reporting Guidelines    Andrew Brown    video    
4:15-4:45    Large Simple Trials & Cluster Randomized Trials    J Michael Oakes    video    
4:45-5:30    Moderated Discussion and Wrap-up     
6:30    Dinner – Short Course meet & greet (voluntary)   
Wed 7/26/2017   
Module 5: Quasi Experiments   
9:00- 9:15    Quasi-experiments – Their Importance in Evaluating Changes That Occur    Matthew Maciejewski    video    
9:15- 10:35    Design & Analysis    Matthew Maciejewski   
10:35-10:50    BREAK     
10:40-11:15    Ethical Issues    Greg Pavela    video    
11:15-12:00    Real World Case Studies    Nir Menachemi    video    
12:00-1:00    LUNCH     
Module 6: Natural Experiments   
1:00-1:45    The Role of Natural Experiments in Public Health Decision Making    Ed Gregg    video    
1:45-2:15    Interactive Activity – Pavela, Fontaine    David Allison moderator    video    
2:15-3:00    Packet Randomized Experiments:  Adoption Example    Greg Pavela    video    
3:00-3:45    Analysis    Bisakha Sen    video    
3:45-4:00    BREAK     
4:00-4:45    Study Design and Practical Applications of Natural Experiments in Public Health    Ed Gregg    video    
4:45-5:30    Moderated Discussion and Wrap-up     
6:30    Dinner – Short Course meet & greet (voluntary)   
Thu 7/27/2017   
Module 7: Genetically Informed Designs – Unmeasured Genotype Approaches   
9:00-9:45    Co-Twin and Sibling Control Designs    Matt McGue    video    
9:45-10:45    Structural Equation Modeling of Twin and Family Data to Assess Causal Effects.    Michael Neale    video    
10:45-11:00    BREAK     
11:00-11:45    Study of Behavioral Phenotypes of Obesity in Children: Ethical Considerations    Tanja Kral    video    
11:45-1:00    LUNCH     
Module 8: Genetically Informed Designs – Measured Genotype Approaches   
1:00-1:30    Causal Inference from Mendelian Randomization    Nicholas Timpson     
1:30-2:30    Interactive Activity – prepare for Friday roundtable    David Allison & Kevin Fontaine     
2:30-3:15    Methodological issues in Testing for Gene by Environment or Gene by Behavior Interaction    Ruth Loos PhD     
3:15-3:30    BREAK   
3:30-4:15    Social, behavioral, and ethical issues    Diane Tucker     
4:15-4:45    Real World Case Studies - Causal Inference and Counterfactuals in Obesity Research: Obesity and the Gut Microbiome.    Andrew Heath     
4:45-5:30    Moderated Discussion and Wrap-up     
6:30    Dinner – Short Course meet & greet (voluntary)   
Fri 7/28/2017   
Module 9: Mediating and Moderating Variables   
9:00-9:45    Conceptual Models (the mediator moderator distinction, environmental, behavioral, psychological, physiological, and molecular mediators and moderators)    Francesca Filbey    video    
9:45-10:30    Testing in General Linear Models    Amanda Fairchild    video    
10:30-10:45    BREAK     
10:45-11:30    Testing in Structural Equation Models    Michael Neale    video    
11:30-12:00    Real Life Examples & Ethical Issues    Amanda Fairchild    video    
12:00-1:00    LUNCH     
Module 10: Group Roundtable Preparation, Presentation & Discussion   
1:00 - 3:00    Group Roundtable Preparation     
3:00-5:00    5 Roundtable Groups Presentations (10 minutes each) Followed by Discussion     
5:00-5:10    Closing Remarks    David Allison & Kevin Fontaine     

Contact Information:

Logistics: Richard Sarver
UAB SOPH Dean's office
Office of Energetics & Nutrition Obesity Research Center
1700 University Boulevard, LHL 434
Birmingham AL 35294-0013
Phone: (205) 975-9169

We would like to
thank our sponsors
for their support:


NIH Disclaimer:
This material is based upon work supported by the National Institutes of Health under Grant No. ( R25HL124208). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Institutes of Health.

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