BMC Public Health (Dec 2020)

Can the validity of a cohort be improved by reweighting based on register data? Evidence from the Swedish MDC study

  • Anton Nilsson,
  • Carl Bonander,
  • Ulf Strömberg,
  • Jonas Björk

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 20, no. 1
pp. 1 – 11


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Abstract Background In any study with voluntary participation, self-selection risks leading to invalid conclusions. If the determinants of selection are observed, it is however possible to restore the parameters of interest by reweighting the sample to match the population, but this approach has seldom been applied in epidemiological research. Methods We reweighted the Malmö Diet and Cancer (MDC) study based on population register data on background variables, including socio-demographics and hospital admissions for both participants and the background population. Following individuals from baseline in 1991–1996 and at most until 2016, we studied mortality (all-cause, cancer, and CVD), incidences (cancer and CVD), and associations between these outcomes and background variables. Results from the unweighted and reweighted participant sample were compared with those from the background population. Results Mortality was substantially lower in participants than in the background population, but reweighting the sample helped only little to make the numbers similar to those in the background population. For incidences and associations, numbers were generally similar between participants and the background population already without reweighting, rendering reweighting unnecessary. Conclusion Reweighting samples based on an extensive range of sociodemographic characteristics and previous hospitalizations does not necessarily yield results that are valid for the population as a whole. In the case of MDC, there appear to be important factors related to both mortality and selection into the study that are not observable in registry data, making it difficult to obtain accurate numbers on population mortality based on cohort participants. These issues seem less relevant for incidences and associations, however. Overall, our results suggest that representativeness must be judged on a case-by-case basis.