Collider bias undermines our understanding of COVID-19 disease risk and severity




Numerous observational studies have attempted to identify risk factors for infection with SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 disease outcomes. Studies have used datasets sampled from patients admitted to hospital, people tested for active infection, or people who volunteered to participate. Here, we highlight the challenge of interpreting observational evidence from such non-representative samples. Collider bias can induce associations between two or more variables which affect the likelihood of an individual being sampled, distorting associations between these variables in the sample. Analysing UK Biobank data, compared to the wider cohort the participants tested for COVID-19 were highly selected for a range of genetic, behavioural, cardiovascular, demographic, and anthropometric traits. We discuss the mechanisms inducing these problems, and approaches that could help mitigate them. While collider bias should be explored in existing studies, the optimal way to mitigate the problem is to use appropriate sampling strategies at the study design stage.

Author(s): Gareth J. Griffith, Tim T. Morris, Matthew J. Tudball, Annie Herbert, Giulia Mancano, Lindsey Pike, Gemma C. Sharp, Jonathan Sterne, Tom M. Palmer, George Davey Smith, Kate Tilling, Luisa Zuccolo, Neil M. Davies & Gibran Hemani

Publication Date: 12 November 2020

Publication Site: Nature Communications