Observational studies provide important information about the effects of exposures that cannot be easily studied in clinical trials, such as nutritional exposures, but are subject to confounding. Investigators adjust for confounders by entering them as covariates in analytic models.
The aim of this study was to evaluate the reporting and credibility of methods for selection of covariates in nutritional epidemiology studies.
We sampled 150 nutritional epidemiology studies published in 2007/2008 and 2017/2018 from the top 5 high-impact nutrition and medical journals and extracted information on methods for selection of covariates.
Most studies did not report selecting covariates a priori (94.0%) or criteria for selection of covariates (63.3%). There was general inconsistency in choice of covariates, even among studies investigating similar questions. One-third of studies did not acknowledge potential for residual confounding in their discussion.
Studies often do not report methods for selection of covariates, follow available guidance for selection of covariates, nor discuss potential for residual confounding.