BMC Med Res Methodol. 2022 Nov 24;22(1):301. doi: 10.1186/s12874-022-01764-w.
BACKGROUND: Mediation analysis aims at estimating to what extent the effect of an exposure on an outcome is explained by a set of mediators on the causal pathway between the exposure and the outcome. The total effect of the exposure on the outcome can be decomposed into an indirect effect, i.e. the effect explained by the mediators jointly, and a direct effect, i.e. the effect unexplained by the mediators. However finer decompositions are possible in presence of independent or sequential mediators.
METHODS: We review four statistical methods to analyse multiple sequential mediators, the inverse odds ratio weighting approach, the inverse probability weighting approach, the imputation approach and the extended imputation approach. These approaches are compared and implemented using a case-study with the aim to investigate the mediating role of adverse reproductive outcomes and infant respiratory infections in the effect of maternal pregnancy mental health on infant wheezing in the Ninfea birth cohort.
RESULTS: Using the inverse odds ratio weighting approach, the direct effect of maternal depression or anxiety in pregnancy is equal to a 59% (95% CI: 27%,94%) increased prevalence of infant wheezing and the mediated effect through adverse reproductive outcomes is equal to a 3% (95% CI: -6%,12%) increased prevalence of infant wheezing. When including infant lower respiratory infections in the mediation pathway, the direct effect decreases to 57% (95% CI: 25%,92%) and the indirect effect increases to 5% (95% CI: -5%,15%). The estimates of the effects obtained using the weighting and the imputation approaches are similar. The extended imputation approach suggests that the small joint indirect effect through adverse reproductive outcomes and lower respiratory infections is due entirely to the contribution of infant lower respiratory infections, and not to an increased prevalence of adverse reproductive outcomes.
CONCLUSIONS: The four methods revealed similar results of small mediating role of adverse reproductive outcomes and early respiratory tract infections in the effect of maternal pregnancy mental health on infant wheezing. The choice of the method depends on what is the effect of main interest, the type of the variables involved in the analysis (binary, categorical, count or continuous) and the confidence in specifying the models for the exposure, the mediators and the outcome.