Web of Causation between Dietary Patterns and Childhood Obesity: Applying Hill's Criteria

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Abstract

Since their publication in 1965, the Bradford Hill criteria for causality have been largely used as a framework for causal inference in epidemiology. We aim at employing this classical approach to shed new light onto the web of causation of childhood obesity. Although the fundamental cause of obesity is the long-term imbalance between energetic need and intake, this medical condition is multifactorial in its origin, influenced by genetic, behavioral, socioeconomic, and environmental factors. This imbalance leads to accumulation of excessive adipose tissue. Observational studies tend to mostly quantify association between dietary factors and accumulation of adipose tissue. On the other hand, multivariate analysis proved some of these associations to be spurious, therefore prospective trials are needed to demonstrate causality. Short term experimental studies have been conducted to identify unique dietary pattern changes on specific outcomes, but long term, community-based studies would offer more comprehensive answers on dietary pattern effects. We conducted a literature review on PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science, and Google Scholar. From a total of 323 papers identified at first stage, we further discuss the applicability of Bradford Hill criteria for 31 articles, by examples of dietary patterns and accumulation of excess body fat as exposure-response associations. We also put forward and analyzed the evidence prospective studies would bring, as foundation for future interventions.

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