Quantifying the impact of the modifiable areal unit problem when estimating the health effects of air pollution

Lee, D. , Robertson, C., Ramsay, C. and Pyper, K. (2020) Quantifying the impact of the modifiable areal unit problem when estimating the health effects of air pollution. Environmetrics, 31(8), e2643. (doi: 10.1002/env.2643)

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Air pollution is a major public health concern, and large numbers of epidemiological studies have been conducted to quantify its impacts. One study design used to quantify these impacts is a spatial areal unit design, which estimates a population level association using data on air pollution concentrations and disease incidence that have been spatially aggregated to a set of non‐overlapping areal units. A major criticism of this study design is that the specification of these areal units is arbitrary, and if one changed their boundaries then the aggregated datawould change despite the locations of the disease cases and the air pollution surface remaining the same. This is known as the modifiable areal unit problem (MAUP), and this is the first paper to quantify its likely effects in air pollution and health studies. Additionally, we derive an aggregate model for these data directly from an idealised individual level risk model, and show that it provides better estimation than the commonly used ecological model. Our work is motivated by a new study of air pollution and health in Scotland, and we find consistent significant associations between air pollution and respiratory disease but not for circulatory disease.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:This research was funded by the Scottish Government (RKES 190359)
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Lee, Professor Duncan
Authors: Lee, D., Robertson, C., Ramsay, C., and Pyper, K.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > School of Mathematics and Statistics > Statistics
Journal Name:Environmetrics
ISSN (Online):1099-095X
Published Online:23 June 2020
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2020 The Authors
First Published:First published in Environmetrics 31(8): e2643
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License
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