Directed Acyclic Graphs: a Tool for Causal Studies in Pediatrics

Thomas Williams, Catherine C. Bach, Niels B. Matthiesen, Tine B. Henriksen, Luigi Gagliardi

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Many paediatric clinical research studies, whether observational or interventional, have as an eventual aim the identification or quantification of causal relationships. One might ask: does screen time influence childhood obesity? Could overuse of paracetamol in infancy cause wheeze? How does breastfeeding affect later cognitive outcomes? In this review, we present causal directed acyclic graphs (DAGs) to a paediatric audience. DAGs are a graphical tool which provide a way to visually represent and better understand the key concepts of exposure, outcome, causation, confounding, and bias. We use clinical examples, including those outlined above, framed in the language of DAGs, to demonstrate their potential applications. We show how DAGs can be most useful in identifying confounding and sources of bias, demonstrating inappropriate statistical adjustments for presumed biases, and understanding threats to validity in randomised controlled trials. We believe that a familiarity with DAGs, and the concepts underlying them, will be of benefit both to the researchers planning studies, and practising clinicians interpreting them.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPediatric Research
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jun 2018


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