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Estimation of causal mediation effects for a dichotomous outcome in multiple-mediator models using the mediation formula

Authors

  • Wei Wang,

    Corresponding author
    • Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Medicine WG-37, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH 44106, U.S.A.
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  • Suchitra Nelson,

    1. Department of Community Dentistry, School of Dental Medicine, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH 44106, U.S.A.
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  • Jeffrey M. Albert

    1. Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Medicine WG-37, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH 44106, U.S.A.
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Correspondence to: Wei Wang, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Medicine WG-37, Case Western Reserve University, 10900 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, OH 44106, U.S.A.

E-mail: wxw28@case.edu

Abstract

Mediators are intermediate variables in the causal pathway between an exposure and an outcome. Mediation analysis investigates the extent to which exposure effects occur through these variables, thus revealing causal mechanisms. In this paper, we consider the estimation of the mediation effect when the outcome is binary and multiple mediators of different types exist. We give a precise definition of the total mediation effect as well as decomposed mediation effects through individual or sets of mediators using the potential outcomes framework. We formulate a model of joint distribution (probit-normal) using continuous latent variables for any binary mediators to account for correlations among multiple mediators. A mediation formula approach is proposed to estimate the total mediation effect and decomposed mediation effects based on this parametric model. Estimation of mediation effects through individual or subsets of mediators requires an assumption involving the joint distribution of multiple counterfactuals. We conduct a simulation study that demonstrates low bias of mediation effect estimators for two-mediator models with various combinations of mediator types. The results also show that the power to detect a nonzero total mediation effect increases as the correlation coefficient between two mediators increases, whereas power for individual mediation effects reaches a maximum when the mediators are uncorrelated. We illustrate our approach by applying it to a retrospective cohort study of dental caries in adolescents with low and high socioeconomic status. Sensitivity analysis is performed to assess the robustness of conclusions regarding mediation effects when the assumption of no unmeasured mediator-outcome confounders is violated. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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