Why evidence for the fetal origins of adult disease might be a statistical artifact: the "reversal paradox" for the relation between birth weight and blood pressure in later life.

Biostatistics Unit, Centre for Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9LN, UK.
American Journal of Epidemiology (Impact Factor: 4.98). 02/2005; 161(1):27-32. DOI: 10.1093/aje/kwi002
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Some researchers have recently questioned the validity of associations between birth weight and health in later life. They argue that these associations might be due in part to inappropriate statistical adjustment for variables on the causal pathway (such as current body size), which creates an artifactual statistical effect known as the "reversal paradox." Computer simulations were conducted for three hypothetical relations between birth weight and adult blood pressure. The authors examined the effect of statistically adjusting for different correlations between current weight and birth weight and between current weight and adult blood pressure to assess their impact on associations between birth weight and blood pressure. When there was no genuine relation between birth weight and blood pressure, adjustment for current weight created an inverse association whose size depended on the magnitude of the positive correlations between current weight and birth weight and between current weight and blood pressure. When there was a genuine inverse relation between birth weight and blood pressure, the association was exaggerated following adjustment for current weight, whereas a positive relation between birth weight and blood pressure could be reversed after adjusting for current weight. Thus, researchers must consider the reversal paradox when adjusting for variables that lie within causal pathways.

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