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Open Access Research article

Modeling of longitudinal polytomous outcome from complex survey data - application to investigate an association between mental distress and non-malignant respiratory diseases

Punam Pahwa12* and Chandima P Karunanayake1

Author Affiliations

1 Canadian Centre for Health and Safety in Agriculture, University of Saskatchewan, 103 Hospital Drive, Saskatoon, SK, S7N OW8, Canada

2 Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, University of Saskatchewan, 103 Hospital drive, Saskatoon, SK, S7N OW8, Canada

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2009, 9:84  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-9-84

Published: 17 December 2009



The data from longitudinal complex surveys based on multi-stage sampling designs contain cross-sectional dependencies among units due to clustered nature of the data and within-subject dependencies due to repeated measurements. Special statistical methods are required to analyze longitudinal complex survey data.


Statistics Canada's longitudinal National Population Health Survey (NPHS) dataset from the first five cycles (1994/1995 to 2002/2003) was used to investigate the effects of demographic, social, life-style, and health-related factors on the longitudinal changes of mental distress scores among the NPHS participants who self-reported physician diagnosed respiratory diseases, specifically asthma and chronic bronchitis. The NPHS longitudinal sample includes 17,276 persons of all ages. In this report, participants 15 years and older (n = 14,713) were considered for statistical analysis. Mental distress, an ordinal outcome variable (categories: no/low, moderate, and high) was examined. Ordered logistic regression models based on the weighted generalized estimating equations approach were fitted to investigate the association between respiratory diseases and mental distress adjusting for other covariates of interest. Variance estimates of regression coefficients were computed by using bootstrap methods. The final model was used to predict the probabilities of prevalence of no/low, moderate or high mental distress scores.


Accounting for design effects does not vary the significance of the coefficients of the model. Participants suffering with chronic bronchitis were significantly at a higher risk (ORadj = 1.37; 95% CI: 1.12-1.66) of reporting high levels of mental distress compared to those who did not self-report chronic bronchitis. There was no significant association between asthma and mental distress. There was a significant interaction between sex and self-perceived general health status indicating a dose-response relationship. Among females, the risk of mental distress increases with increasing deteriorating (from excellent to very poor) self-perceived general health.


A positive association was observed between the physician diagnosed self-reported chronic bronchitis and an increased prevalence of mental distress when adjusted for important covariates. Variance estimates of regression coefficients obtained from the sandwich estimator (i.e. not accounting for design effects) were similar to bootstrap variance estimates (i.e. accounting for design effects). Even though these two sets of variance estimates are similar, it is more appropriate to use bootstrap variance estimates.