BACKGROUND: Greater epidemiologic understanding of the relationships among fetal-infant mortality and its prognostic factors, including birthweight, could have vast public health implications. A key step toward that understanding is a realistic and tractable framework for analyzing birthweight distributions and fetal-infant mortality. The present paper is the first of a two-part series that introduces such a framework.

METHODS: We propose describing a birthweight distribution via a normal mixture model in which the number of components is determined from the data using a model selection criterion rather than fixed a priori.

RESULTS: We address a number of methodological issues, including how the number of components selected depends on the sample size, how the choice of model selection criterion influences the results, and how estimates of mixture model parameters based on multiple samples from the same population can be combined to produce confidence intervals. As an illustration, we find that a 4-component normal mixture model reasonably describes the birthweight distribution for a population of white singleton infants born to heavily smoking mothers. We also compare this 4-component normal mixture model to two competitors from the existing literature: a contaminated normal model and a 2-component normal mixture model. In a second illustration, we discover that a 6-component normal mixture model may be more appropriate than a 4-component normal mixture model for a general population of black singletons.

CONCLUSIONS: The framework developed in this paper avoids assuming the existence of an interval of birthweights over which there are no compromised pregnancies and does not constrain birthweights within compromised pregnancies to be normally distributed. Thus, the present framework can reveal heterogeneity in birthweight that is undetectable via a contaminated normal model or a 2-component normal mixture model.

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Notes/Citation Information

Published in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, v. 10, 37.

© 2010 Charnigo et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Cf., "Thinking outside the curve, part II: modeling fetal-infant mortality."

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1471-2393-10-37-s1.doc (121 kB)
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