J Epidemiol Community Health 62:842-846 doi:10.1136/jech.2007.067371
  • Theory and methods

Using directed acyclic graphs to guide analyses of neighbourhood health effects: an introduction

  1. N L Fleischer,
  2. A V Diez Roux
  1. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
  1. Dr A V Diez Roux, Center for Social Epidemiology and Population Health, 3rd Floor SPH Tower, 109 Observatory St, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2029, USA; adiezrou{at}
  • Accepted 22 October 2007


Background: Directed acyclic graphs, or DAGs, are a useful graphical tool in epidemiologic research that can help identify appropriate analytical strategies in addition to potential unintended consequences of commonly used methods such as conditioning on mediators. The use of DAGs can be particularly informative in the study of the causal effects of social factors on health.

Methods: The authors consider four specific scenarios in which DAGs may be useful to neighbourhood health effects researchers: (1) identifying variables that need to be adjusted for in estimating neighbourhood health effects, (2) identifying the unintended consequences of estimating “direct” effects by conditioning on a mediator, (3) using DAGs to understand possible sources and consequences of selection bias in neighbourhood health effects research, and (4) using DAGs to identify the consequences of adjustment for variables affected by prior exposure.

Conclusions: The authors present simplified sample DAGs for each scenario and discuss the insights that can be gleaned from the DAGs in each case and the implications these have for analytical approaches.


  • Funding: This work was supported by R01 HL071759 from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

  • Competing interests: None.