Evaluation of confounding in epidemiologic studies assessing alcohol consumption on the risk of ischemic heart disease: a cross-sectional analysis
Among different investigators studying the same exposures and outcomes, there may be a lack of consensus about potential confounders that should be considered as matching, adjustment, or stratification variables in observational studies. Concerns have been raised that confounding factors may affect the results obtained for the alcohol-ischemic heart disease relationship, as well as their consistency and reproducibility across different studies. Therefore, we assessed how confounders are
... ounders are defined, operationalized, and discussed across individual studies evaluating alcohol and ischemic heart disease risk. Methods: For observational studies included in a recent alcohol-ischemic heart disease meta-analysis, we identified all variables adjusted, matched, or stratified for in the largest reported multivariate model (i.e. potential confounders). We recorded how the variables were measured and grouped them into higher-level confounder domains. Abstracts and Discussion sections were then assessed to determine whether authors considered confounding when interpreting their study findings. Results: 85 of 87 (97.7%) studies reported multivariate analyses for an alcohol-ischemic heart disease relationship. The most common higher-level confounder domains included were smoking (79, 92.9%), age (74, 87.1%), and BMI, height, and/or weight (57, 67.1%). However, no two models adjusted, matched, or stratified for the same higher-level confounder domains. Most (74/87, 85.1%) articles mentioned or alluded to "confounding" in their Abstract or Discussion sections, but only one stated that their main findings were likely to be affected by residual confounding. There were five (5/87, 5.7%) authors that explicitly asked for caution when interpreting results. Conclusion: There is large variation in the confounders considered across observational studies evaluating alcohol and ischemic heart disease risk and almost all studies spuriously ignore or eventually dismiss confounding in their conclusions. Given that study results and interpretations may be affected by the mix of potential confounders included within multivariate models, efforts are necessary to standardize approaches for selecting and accounting for confounders in observational studies.