Open Access Research article

Intracluster correlation coefficients for the Brazilian Multicenter Study on Preterm Birth (EMIP): methodological and practical implications

Giuliane J Lajos1*, Samira M Haddad1, Ricardo P Tedesco1, Renato Passini Jr1, Tabata Z Dias1, Marcelo L Nomura1, Patrícia M Rheder1, Maria H Sousa2, Jose G Cecatti12 and for the Brazilian Multicenter Study on Preterm Birth study group

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, School of Medical Sciences, University of Campinas, Campinas, Brazil

2 Center for Studies in Reproductive Health of Campinas (Cemicamp), Campinas, Brazil

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2014, 14:54  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-14-54

Published: 22 April 2014



Cluster-based studies in health research are increasing. An important characteristic of such studies is the presence of intracluster correlation, typically quantified by the intracluster correlation coefficient (ICC), that indicate the proportion of data variability that is explained by the way of clustering. The purpose of this manuscript was to evaluate ICC of variables studied in the Brazilian Multicenter Study on Preterm Birth.


This was a multicenter cross-sectional study on preterm births involving 20 referral hospitals in different regions of Brazil plus a nested case–control study to assess associated factors with spontaneous preterm births. Estimated prevalence rates or means, ICC with 95% confidence intervals, design effects and mean cluster sizes were presented for more than 250 maternal and newborn variables.


Overall, 5296 cases were included in the study (4,150 preterm births and 1,146 term births). ICC ranged from <0.001 to 0.965, with a median of 0.028. For descriptive characteristics (socio-demographic, obstetric history and perinatal outcomes) the median ICC was 0.014, for newborn outcomes the median ICC was 0.041 and for process variables (clinical management and delivery), it was 0.102. ICC was <0.1 in 78.4% of the variables and <0.3 for approximately 95% of them. Most of ICC >0.3 was found in some clinical management aspects well defined in literature such as use of corticosteroids, indicating there was homogeneity in clusters for these variables.


Clusters selected for Brazilian Multicenter Study on Preterm Birth had mainly heterogeneous findings and these results can help researchers estimate the required sample size for future studies on maternal and perinatal health.

Intracluster correlation coefficient; Preterm birth; Spontaneous preterm labor; Premature rupture of membranes; Indicated preterm delivery; Neonatal morbidity