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Causal Mediation Analysis With Observational Data: Considerations and Illustration Examining Mechanisms Linking Neighborhood Poverty to Adolescent Substance Use

18 Dec 2019

AbstractUnderstanding the mediation mechanisms by which an exposure or intervention affects an outcome can provide a look into what has been called a “black box” of many epidemiologic associations, thereby providing further evidence of a relationship and possible points of intervention. Rapid methodologic developments in mediation analyses mean that there are a growing number of approaches for researchers to consider, each with its own set of assumptions, advantages, and disadvantages. This has understandably resulted in some confusion among applied researchers. Here, we provide a brief overview of the mediation methods available and discuss points for consideration when choosing a method. We provide an in-depth explication of 2 of the many potential estimators for illustrative purposes: the Baron and Kenny mediation approach, because it is the most commonly used, and a recently developed approach for estimating stochastic direct and indirect effects, because it relies on far fewer assumptions. We illustrate the decision process and analytical procedure by estimating potential school- and peer-based mechanisms linking neighborhood poverty to adolescent substance use in the National Comorbidity Survey Adolescent Supplement.

Click here to view the full article which appeared in American Journal of Epidemiology