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Third Short Course on Strengthening Causal Inference in Behavioral Obesity Research

Held On: Mon 7/24/2017 - Fri 7/28/2017
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)
Residence Inn Birmingham
821 20th St S
Birmingham, AL 35205-2713
(205) 731-9595

Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Birmingham
808 South 20th Street
Birmingham, AL  35205
(205) 933-9000

Homewood Suites by Hilton Birmingham Downtown
1016 20th Street South
Birmingham, Alabama, 35205
(205) 703-9920; fax (205) 703-9921

Course Directors:

David Allison, PhD
University of Alabama
at Birmingham

Kevin Fontaine, PhD
University of Alabama
at Birmingham


  • Overview
  • 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 7/24/2017
8:00-8:15 Registration     
8:15- 8:45 Welcoming & Introductory remarks Allison & Fontaine  
8:45- 9:00 Attendee introductions  
Module 1: Introduction to Basic Language, Terms, and Concepts in Statistics and Design.
9:00-9:45 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 video
10:45-11:30 Study Designs & Quantifying Effect and Association Size Christopher Haddock video
11:30-12:30 LUNCH  
Module 2: Conventional Observational Studies: Advantages, Limits, and Best Practices
12:30-1:15 Best Practices – Ethical Use, Hill’s Guidelines, Negative Controls, Meta-Analysis, Public Data Availability, etc. Douglas Weed video
1:15-1:45 Advantages Bertha Hidalgo video
1:45-2:15 Limits I – Theory: Bias and Confounding Dominick Alexander  
2:15- 2:30 BREAK  
2:30-3:30 Interactive Activity - Causal inference on BMI change and mortality in humans. Tapan Mehta & David Allison  
3:30-4:00 Limits II – Empirical: Evidence & Cases Studies of Confirmation and Non-Confirmation of Observational Study- Generated Hypotheses Andrew Brown  
4:00-5:00 Moderated Discussion and Wrap-up
6:30 Dinner – Short Course meet & greet (voluntary)
Tue 7/25/2017
Module 3: Randomized Controlled Experiments – I
9:00-9:10 Theory: Potential Outcomes David B Allison video
9:10-10:00 Methods for Randomization (including cluster randomization, stratified, choice of allocation ratios, adaptive, etc.) Scarlett Bellamy video
10:00-10:45 Power & Sample Size Calculation Charity Morgan  
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 Peter Hendricks video
12:00-1:00 LUNCH  
Module 4: Randomized Controlled Experiments – II
1:00-1:45 Interactive Activity Mini-Debates:
“Intention to Treat (ITT) vs Per Protocol”
Gary Cutter
George Howard
1:45-2:30 Practical Challenges: Measurement Error, Missing Data, Assumption Violations, etc. Diane Catellier video
2:30-2:45 BREAK  
2:45-3:45 Ethical Issues in RCEs Theodore K. Kyle video
3:45-4:15 Procedural Elements: Trial Registration, Reporting Guidelines Andrew Brown video
4:15-4:45 Large Simple Trials & Cluster Randomized Trials J Michael Oakes video
4:45-5:30 Moderated Discussion and Wrap-up  
6:30 Dinner – Short Course meet & greet (voluntary)
Wed 7/26/2017
Module 5: Quasi Experiments
9:00- 9:15 Quasi-experiments – Their Importance in Evaluating Changes That Occur Matthew Maciejewski video
9:15- 10:35 Design & Analysis Matthew Maciejewski
10:35-10:50 BREAK  
10:40-11:15 Ethical Issues Greg Pavela video
11:15-12:00 Real World Case Studies Nir Menachemi video
12:00-1:00 LUNCH  
Module 6: Natural Experiments
1:00-1:45 The Role of Natural Experiments in Public Health Decision Making Ed Gregg video
1:45-2:15 Interactive Activity – Pavela, Fontaine David Allison moderator video
2:15-3:00 Packet Randomized Experiments:  Adoption Example Greg Pavela video
3:00-3:45 Analysis Bisakha Sen video
3:45-4:00 BREAK  
4:00-4:45 Study Design and Practical Applications of Natural Experiments in Public Health Ed Gregg video
4:45-5:30 Moderated Discussion and Wrap-up  
6:30 Dinner – Short Course meet & greet (voluntary)
Thu 7/27/2017
Module 7: Genetically Informed Designs – Unmeasured Genotype Approaches
9:00-9:45 Co-Twin and Sibling Control Designs Matt McGue video
9:45-10:45 Structural Equation Modeling of Twin and Family Data to Assess Causal Effects. Michael Neale video
10:45-11:00 BREAK  
11:00-11:45 Study of Behavioral Phenotypes of Obesity in Children: Ethical Considerations Tanja Kral video
11:45-1:00 LUNCH  
Module 8: Genetically Informed Designs – Measured Genotype Approaches
1:00-1:30 Causal Inference from Mendelian Randomization Nicholas Timpson  
1:30-2:30 Interactive Activity – prepare for Friday roundtable David Allison & Kevin Fontaine  
2:30-3:15 Methodological issues in Testing for Gene by Environment or Gene by Behavior Interaction Ruth Loos PhD  
3:15-3:30 BREAK
3:30-4:15 Social, behavioral, and ethical issues Diane Tucker  
4:15-4:45 Real World Case Studies - Causal Inference and Counterfactuals in Obesity Research: Obesity and the Gut Microbiome. Andrew Heath  
4:45-5:30 Moderated Discussion and Wrap-up  
6:30 Dinner – Short Course meet & greet (voluntary)
Fri 7/28/2017
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 Neale video
11:30-12:00 Real Life Examples & Ethical Issues Amanda Fairchild 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.