Statistical Reasoning and Methods in Epidemiology to Promote Individualized Health: In Celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

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Abstract

Epidemiology is concerned with determining the distribution and causes of disease. Throughout its history, epidemiology has drawn upon statistical ideas and methods to achieve its aims. Because of the exponential growth in our capacity to measure and analyze data on the underlying processes that define each person's state of health, there is an emerging opportunity for population-based epidemiologic studies to influence health decisions made by individuals in ways that take into account the individuals' characteristics, circumstances, and preferences. We refer to this endeavor as “individualized health.” The present article comprises 2 sections. In the first, we describe how graphical, longitudinal, and hierarchical models can inform the project of individualized health. We propose a simple graphical model for informing individual health decisions using population-based data. In the second, we review selected topics in causal inference that we believe to be particularly useful for individualized health. Epidemiology and biostatistics were 2 of the 4 founding departments in the world's first graduate school of public health at Johns Hopkins University, the centennial of which we honor. This survey of a small part of the literature is intended to demonstrate that the 2 fields remain just as inextricably linked today as they were 100 years ago.

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