Temporal aspects of air pollutant measures in epidemiologic analysis: a simulation study.


Numerous observational studies have assessed the association between ambient air pollution and chronic disease incidence, but there is no uniform approach to create an exposure metric that captures the variability in air pollution through time and determines the most relevant exposure window. The purpose of the present study was to assess ways of modeling exposure to air pollution in relation to incident hypertension. We simulated data on incident hypertension to assess the performance of six air pollution exposure metrics, using characteristics from the Black Women's Health Study. Each metric made different assumptions about how to incorporate time trends in pollutant data, and the most relevant window of exposure. We use observed values for particulate matter ≤ 2.5 microns (PM2.5) for this cohort to create the six exposure metrics and fit Cox proportional hazards models to the simulated data using the six metrics. The optimal exposure metric depends on the underlying association between PM2.5 and disease, which is unknown. Metrics that incorporate exposure information from multiple years tend to be more robust and suffer from less bias. This study provides insight into factors that influence the metric used to quantifying exposure to PM2.5 and suggests the need for careful sensitivity analyses.

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