Noncollapsibility and its role in quantifying confounding bias in logistic regression

Noah A. Schuster, Jos W.R. Twisk, Gerben Ter Riet, Martijn W. Heymans, Judith J.M. Rijnhart

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Confounding bias is a common concern in epidemiological research. Its presence is often determined by comparing exposure effects between univariable- and multivariable regression models, using an arbitrary threshold of a 10% difference to indicate confounding bias. However, many clinical researchers are not aware that the use of this change-in-estimate criterion may lead to wrong conclusions when applied to logistic regression coefficients. This is due to a statistical phenomenon called noncollapsibility, which manifests itself in logistic regression models. This paper aims to clarify the role of noncollapsibility in logistic regression and to provide guidance in determining the presence of confounding bias.

A Monte Carlo simulation study was designed to uncover patterns of confounding bias and noncollapsibility effects in logistic regression. An empirical data example was used to illustrate the inability of the change-in-estimate criterion to distinguish confounding bias from noncollapsibility effects.

The simulation study showed that, depending on the sign and magnitude of the confounding bias and the noncollapsibility effect, the difference between the effect estimates from univariable- and multivariable regression models may underestimate or overestimate the magnitude of the confounding bias. Because of the noncollapsibility effect, multivariable regression analysis and inverse probability weighting provided different but valid estimates of the confounder-adjusted exposure effect. In our data example, confounding bias was underestimated by the change in estimate due to the presence of a noncollapsibility effect.

In logistic regression, the difference between the univariable- and multivariable effect estimate might not only reflect confounding bias but also a noncollapsibility effect. Ideally, the set of confounders is determined at the study design phase and based on subject matter knowledge. To quantify confounding bias, one could compare the unadjusted exposure effect estimate and the estimate from an inverse probability weighted model.
Original languageEnglish
Article number136
Number of pages9
JournalBMC Medical Research Methodology
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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