Linear spline multilevel models for summarising childhood growth trajectories: A guide to their application using examples from five birth cohorts.

Publication authors

Howe LD, Tilling K, Matijasevich A, Petherick ES, Santos AC, Fairley L, Wright J, Santos IS, Barros AJ, Martin RM, Kramer MS, Bogdanovich N, Matush L, Barros H, Lawlor DA.


Childhood growth is of interest in medical research concerned with determinants and consequences of variation from healthy growthand development. Linear spline multilevel modelling is a useful approach for deriving individual summary measures of growth, which overcomes several data issues (co-linearity of repeat measures, the requirement for all individuals to be measured at the same ages and bias due to missing data). Here, we outline the application of this methodology to model individual trajectories of length/height and weight, drawing on examples from five cohorts from different generations and different geographical regions with varying levels of economic development. We describe the unique features of the data within each cohort that have implications for the application oflinear spline multilevel models, for example, differences in the density and inter-individual variation in measurement occasions, and multiple sources of measurement with varying measurement error. After providing example Stata syntax and a suggested workflow for the implementation of linear spline multilevel models, we conclude with a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of the linearspline approach compared with other growth modelling methods such as fractional polynomials, more complex spline functions and other non-linear models.