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Pre-conference: Demystifying causal inference and mediation methods for public health researchers

Wednesday 20 November, 09:00 - 17:00

Organised by:

EUPHA Research Pillar and EUPHA Section on Public health epidemiology


Mediation analysis is a common tool in public health researchers’ toolboxes, helping us to understand processes or casual mechanisms through which one factor affects another and to identify pathways where intervention might be most fruitful (particularly useful when the exposure of interest is less amenable to change). The so-called ‘Baron and Kenny’ approach to mediation is very widely used in public health research but makes a number of assumptions that can rarely be met. This can produce biased findings, potentially leading to flawed conclusions. Causal mediation methods can change or avoid the need for some of these assumptions, although they remain relatively inaccessible to those most likely to want to apply them.


In this workshop we will provide public health practitioners and researchers with an overview of the limitations of the ‘Baron and Kenny’ approach to mediation, including when and why this method fails to work. We will present alternative approaches in a way that is more accessible than in the methodological literature, drawing on applied research questions to show when different methods might be most appropriately used. During the session participants will learn the differences between direct and indirect effects, and between controlled and natural direct effects. They will work in small groups to draw Directed Acyclic Graphs (DAGs) to consolidate the learning. There will be a series of practical examples of the application of mediation analysis in public health using a variety of methods. Workshop participants should come with research questions in their mind relating to issues of mediation in their own research areas. Throughout the day there will be opportunities to ask questions, and the final session is designed to resolve any remaining issues that have arisen during the day.

Track record

Presenters Lynch and Pearce, both public health researchers, have a track record in applying these methods in their own work and teaching them to others. Chairs, Leyland and Gray, are statisticians working in public health with extensive experience in applying and teaching advanced statistical methods to mixed levels and disciplines. The course material has been successfully presented to a range of audiences, in one-off workshops to public health researchers and social scientists at the University of Glasgow and to epidemiologists and public health doctors at the UCL Institute of Child Health. It has also been run numerous times as part of a successful causal inference course in Australia.


Morning chair: Alastair Leyland (EUPHA Research Pillar)

9.00 – 9.05

Introduction to the workshop
Alastair Leyland


9.05 – 10.00

Introduction to mediation analysis
John Lynch


10.00 – 10.30

What’s wrong with Baron and Kenny?
John Lynch


10.30 - 11:00

Coffee Break


11.00 – 11.30

Alternatives to Baron and Kenny
John Lynch


11.30 – 11.45

Drawing a DAG
Anna Pearce


11.45 – 12.30

Small group exercise: drawing a DAG 
Anna Pearce


12.30 – 13.30

Networking lunch 


Afternoon chair: Linsay Gray (EUPHA Section on Public Health Epidemiology) 

13.30 – 14.00

Feedback on small group exercise
Anna Pearce


14.00 – 15.00

Applications of mediation analysis (up to 3 invited, t.b.c.)


15.00 – 15.30

Coffee Break


15.30 – 16.30

Applications of mediation analysis (up to 3 invited, t.b.c.)


16.30 – 17.00

Closing Q&A and wrapping up
John Lynch


Registration fee

The registration fee is € 140 which includes networking lunch and refreshments.