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children, nonrandomized controlled trial, obesity, propensity score, quasiexperimental study, school nursing



  1. Schroeder, Krista
  2. Jia, Haomiao
  3. Smaldone, Arlene


Background: Propensity score (PS) methods are increasingly being employed by researchers to reduce bias arising from confounder imbalance when using observational data to examine intervention effects.


Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine PS theory and methodology and compare application of three PS methods (matching, stratification, weighting) to determine which best improves confounder balance.


Methods: Baseline characteristics of a sample of 20,518 school-aged children with severe obesity (of whom 1,054 received an obesity intervention) were assessed prior to PS application. Three PS methods were then applied to the data to determine which showed the greatest improvement in confounder balance between the intervention and control group. The effect of each PS method on the outcome variable-body mass index percentile change at one year-was also examined. SAS 9.4 and Comprehensive Meta-analysis statistical software were used for analyses.


Results: Prior to PS adjustment, the intervention and control groups differed significantly on seven of 11 potential confounders. PS matching removed all differences. PS stratification and weighting both removed one difference but created two new differences. Sensitivity analyses did not change these results. Body mass index percentile at 1 year decreased in both groups. The size of the decrease was smaller in the intervention group, and the estimate of the decrease varied by PS method.


Discussion: Selection of a PS method should be guided by insight from statistical theory and simulation experiments, in addition to observed improvement in confounder balance. For this data set, PS matching worked best to correct confounder imbalance. Because each method varied in correcting confounder imbalance, we recommend that multiple PS methods be compared for ability to improve confounder balance before implementation in evaluating treatment effects in observational data.