Office of Energetics

Second Short Course on Strengthening Causal Inference in Behavioral Obesity Research

On-line Registration:
Held On: Mon 7/25/2016 - Fri 7/29/2016
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)
Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Birmingham
808 South 20th Street
Birmingham, AL  35205
(205) 933-9000

Residence Inn Birmingham
821 20th St S
Birmingham, AL 35205-2713
(205) 731-9595

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 7/25/2016
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  
9:45-10:00 BREAK  
10:00-10:45 Intro to Energy Balance and Laws of Thermodynamics Diana Thomas  
10:45-11:30 Study Designs & Quantifying Effect and Association Size Christopher Haddock  
11:30-12:30 LUNCH  
Module 2: Conventional Observational Studies: Advantages, Limits, and Best Practices
12:30-1:00 Advantages Emily Levitan  
1:00-1:30 Limits I – Theory: Bias and Confounding Dominick Alexander  
1:30-2:30 Interactive Activity - Causal inference on BMI change and mortality in humans. Tapan Mehta & Hailey Banack  
2:30- 2:45 BREAK  
2:45-3:15 Limits II – Empirical: Evidence & Cases Studies of Confirmation and Non-Confirmation of Observational Study-Generated Hypotheses Andrew Brown  
3:15-4:00 Best Practices – Ethical Use, Hill’s Guidelines, Negative Controls, Meta-Analysis, Public Data Availability, etc. Douglas Weed  
4:00-5:00 Moderated Discussion and Wrap-up
6:30 Dinner – Short Course meet & greet (voluntary)
Tue 7/26/2016
Module 3: Randomized Controlled Experiments – I
9:00-9:10 Theory: Potential Outcomes David B Allison  
9:10-10:00 Methods for Randomization (including cluster randomization, stratified, choice of allocation ratios, adaptive, etc.) Scarlett Bellamy  
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  
11:15-11:30 BREAK  
11:30-12:00 Controlling for Expectancy and Non-Specific Effects Adam Leventhal  
12:00-1:00 LUNCH  
Module 4: Randomized Controlled Experiments – II
1:00-1:45 Interactive Activity Mini-Debates:
“ITT vs On Study” and “Replication crisis vs Not”
Gary Cutter
George Howard
1:45-2:30 Practical Challenges: Measurement Error, Missing Data, Assumption Violations, etc. Diane Catellier  
2:30-2:45 BREAK  
2:45-3:45 Ethical Issues in RCEs Theodore K. Kyle  
3:45-4:15 Procedural Elements: Trial Registration, Reporting Guidelines Andrew Brown  
4:15-4:45 Large Simple Trials & Cluster Randomized Trials J Michael Oakes  
4:45-5:30 Moderated Discussion and Wrap-up  
6:30 Dinner – Short Course meet & greet (voluntary)
Wed 7/27/2016
Module 5: Quasi Experiments
9:00- 9:15 Quasi-experiments – Their Importance in Evaluating Changes That Occur Matthew Maciejewski  
9:15- 10:25 Design & Analysis Matthew Maciejewski  
10:25-10:40 BREAK  
10:40-11:15 Ethical Issues Greg Pavela  
11:15-12:00 Real World Case Studies Nir Menachemi  
12:00-1:00 LUNCH  
Module 6: Natural Experiments
1:00-1:45 Theory & Concepts Ed Gregg  
1:45-2:15 Interactive Activity – Pavela, Fontaine, Goldsby David Allison moderator  
2:15-3:00 Packet Randomized Experiments:  Adoption Example Greg Pavela  
3:00-3:45 Analysis Bisakha Sen  
3:45-4:00 BREAK  
4:00-4:45 Practical and Ethical Issues in Accessing Natural Randomization Ed Gregg  
4:45-5:30 Moderated Discussion and Wrap-up  
6:30 Dinner – Short Course meet & greet (voluntary)
Thu 7/28/2016
Module 7: Genetically Informed Designs – Unmeasured Genotype Approaches
9:00-9:45 Co-Twin and Sibling Control Designs Matt McGue  
9:45-10:45 Structural Equation Modeling of Twin and Family Data to Assess Causal Effects. Michael Neale  
10:45-11:00 BREAK  
11:00-11:45 Study of Behavioral Phenotypes of Obesity in Children: Ethical Considerations Tanja Kral  
11:45-1:00 LUNCH  
Module 8: Genetically Informed Designs – Measured Genotype Approaches
1:00-1:30 Linkage and TDT Methods: Special Cases of Packet Randomization and Utility in Testing Fetal Sire Effects David Allison  
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 7/29/2016
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  
9:45-10:30 Testing in General Linear Models Amanda Fairchild  
10:30-10:45 BREAK  
10:45-11:30 Testing in Structural Equation Models Michael Neale  
11:30-12:00 Real Life Examples & Ethical Issues Amanda Fairchild  
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.