Background Finite mixture models posit the existence of a latent categorical variable and can be used for probabilistic classification. The authors illustrate the use of mixture models for dietary pattern analysis. An advantage of this approach is taking classification uncertainty into account.
Methods Participants were a random sample of women from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer. Food consumption was measured using dietary questionnaires. Mixture models identified latent classes in food consumption data, which were interpreted as dietary patterns.
Results Among various assumptions examined, models allowing the variance of foods to vary within and between classes fit better than alternatives assuming constant variance (the K-means method of cluster analysis also makes the latter assumption). An eight-class model was best fitting and five patterns validated well in a second random sample. Patterns with lower classification uncertainty tended to be better validated. One pattern showed low consumption of foods despite being associated with moderate body mass index.
Conclusion Mixture modelling for dietary pattern analysis has advantages over both factor and cluster analysis. In contrast to these other methods, it is easy to estimate pattern prevalence, to describe patterns and to use patterns to predict disease taking classification uncertainty into account. Owing to substantial error in food consumptions, any analysis will usually find some patterns that cannot be well validated. While knowledge of classification uncertainty may aid pattern evaluation, any method will better identify patterns from food consumptions measured with less error. Mixture models may be useful to identify individuals who under-report food consumption.
- Mixture model
- dietary pattern
- latent variable
- food consumption
- factor analysis
- cluster analysis
- multivariate analysis
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The co-authors Kurt Hoffmann and Sheila Bingham are now deceased.
Funding The EPIC study was supported by the ‘Europe Against Cancer’ Programme of the European Commission (SANCO); Ligue contre le Cancer (France); Société 3M (France); Mutuelle Générale de l'Education Nationale; Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM); German Cancer Aid; German Cancer Research Center; German Federal Ministry of Education and Research; Danish Cancer Society; Health Research Fund (FIS) of the Spanish Ministry of Health; Spanish regional governments of Andalusia, Asturias, Basque Country, Murcia, Navarra and ISCIII; Red de Centros RCESP, C03/09; Cancer Research UK; Medical Research Council, UK; the Stroke Association, UK; British Heart Foundation; Department of Health, UK; Food Standards Agency, UK; the Wellcome Trust, UK; Greek Ministry of Health; Greek Ministry of Education; Italian Association for Research on Cancer; Italian National Research Council; Dutch Ministry of Public Health, Welfare and Sports; Dutch Ministry of Health; Dutch Prevention Funds; LK Research Funds; Dutch ZON (Zorg Onderzoek Nederland); World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF); Swedish Cancer Society; Swedish Scientific Council; Regional Government of Skane, Sweden; and the Norwegian Cancer Society. IRW was supported by Medical Research Council grant U.1052.00.006.
Competing interests None.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.