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First Short Course on Strengthening Causal Inference in Behavioral Obesity Research

On-line Registration: Closed
Held On: Mon 7/20/2015 - Fri 7/24/2015
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)
Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Birmingham
808 South 20th Street
Birmingham, AL  35205
(205) 933-9000

Residence Inn Birmingham
821 20th St S
Birmingham, AL 35205-2713
(205) 731-9595

Course Directors:

David Allison, PhD
University of Alabama
at Birmingham

Kevin Fontaine, PhD
University of Alabama
at Birmingham


  • Overview & Agenda
  • 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 7/20/2015
8:00-8:30 Registration
8:30- 9:00 Welcoming & Introductory remarks – Allison & Fontaine video
Module 1: Split Session – Introduction to Obesity OR Introduction to Basic Language, Terms, and Concepts in Statistics and Design.
  Intro to Obesity Intro to Statistics & Design
9:00-9:45 Intro to Terms and Measurement – W. T. Garvey video 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 & Emily Dhurandhar video Quantifying Effect and Association Size – Christopher K. Haddock video
10:45-11:30 Some Key Answered and Unanswered Questions – Olivia Affuso video Study Designs and Causal Inference – Chanelle Howe video
11:30-12:30 LUNCH
Module 2: Conventional Observational Studies: Advantages, Limits, and Best Practices
12:30-1:15 Advantages Emily Levitan video
1:15-2:00 Limits I – Theory: Bias and Confounding Dominik D. Alexander PhD, MSPH video
2:00- 2:15 BREAK
2:15-3:00 Limits II – Empirical: Evidence & Cases Studies of Confirmation and Non-Confirmation of Observational Study-Generated Hypotheses Andrew Brown video
3:00-4:00 Best Practices – Ethical Use, Hill’s Guidelines, Negative Controls, Meta-Analysis, Public Data Availability, etc. Douglas Weed video
4:00-5:00 Moderated Discussion and Wrap-up
Tue 7/21/2015
Module 3: Randomized Controlled Experiments – I
9:00-10:00 Theory: Potential Outcomes Dylan Small video
10:00-10:45 Methods for Randomization (including cluster randomization, stratified, choice of allocation ratios, adaptive, etc.) Scarlett L. Bellamy video
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 Bret Rutherford video
12:00-1:00 LUNCH
Module 4: Randomized Controlled Experiments – II
1:00-1:45 Power & Sample Size Calculation David Todem video
1:45-2:30 Practical Challenges: Measurement Error, Missing Data, Assumption Violations, etc. Diane J. Catellier video
2:30-2:45 BREAK
2:45-3:45 Ethical Issues in RCEs Jonathan Kimmelman video
3:45-4:15 Procedural Elements: Trial Registration, Reporting Guidelines Evan Mayo-Wilson video
4:15-4:45 Large Simple Trials & Cluster Randomized Trials J Michael Oakes video
4:45-5:30 Moderated Discussion and Wrap-up
Wed 7/22/2015
Module 5: Quasi Experiments
9:00- 9:15 Quasi-experiments – Their Importance in Evaluating Changes That Occur Brian Elbel video
9:15- 10:25 Design & Analysis William R. Shadish video
10:25-10:40 BREAK  
10:40-11:15 Ethical Issues May Wang video
11:15-12:00 Real World Case Studies Brian Elbel video
12:00-1:00 LUNCH  
Module 6: Natural Experiments
1:00-1:45 Theory & Concepts Kelli Komro video
1:45-2:15 Packet Randomized Experiments David Allison & Greg Pavela video
2:15-3:00 Analysis Luke J. Keele video
3:00-3:15 BREAK  
3:15-4:00 Practical and Ethical Issues in Accessing Natural Randomization Luke J. Keele video
4:00-4:45 Real World Case Studies Bisakha Sen video
4:45-5:30 Moderated Discussion and Wrap-up  
Thu 7/23/2015
Module 7: Genetically Informed Designs – Unmeasured Genotype Approaches
9:00-9:30 Adoption as Pseudo-Random Assignment to Homes and a Special Case of Packet Randomization Kevin Fontaine & Greg Pavela video
9:30-10:15 Co-Twin and Sibling Control Designs Matt McGue video
10:15-10:30 BREAK  
10:30-11:30 Structural Equation Modeling of Twin and Family Data to Assess Causal Effects Michael C. Neale video
11:30-12:00 Study of Behavioral Phenotypes of Obesity in Children: Ethical Considerations Tanja V. Kral video
12:00-1:00 LUNCH  
Module 8: Genetically Informed Designs – Measured Genotype Approaches
1:00-1:30 Linkage and TDT Methods: Special Cases of Packet Randomization and Utility in Testing Fetal Sire Effects David Allison video
1:30-2:30 Mendelian Randomization James Dai video
2:30-3:15 Methodological issues in Testing for Gene by Environment or Gene by Behavior Interaction Hemant Tiwari video
3:15-3:30 BREAK
3:30-4:15 Social, behavioral, and ethical issues Susan J. Persky video
4:15-4:45 Real World Case Studies - Causal Inference and Counterfactuals in Obesity Research: Obesity and the Gut Microbiome. Andrew C Heath video
4:45-5:30 Moderated Discussion and Wrap-up  
Fri 7/24/2015
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 C. Neale video
11:30-12:00 Real Life Examples & Ethical Issues Jose R. Fernandez 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.