Using Bayesian network models to predict the impact of public health interventions on disease-prevalence in population health research

Population Health Research studies determinants of health and disease with the goal of identifying interventions that promote health and reduce the burden of disease. Deciding on an appropriate intervention mandates a prior forecast of the intervention's effect on disease. For example, for an intervention targeting smoking, we might estimate how many cases of lung cancer would be saved as a result of the intervention. Unfortunately, often these estimates are unacceptably inaccurate, due to outdated estimation methods. This situation needs to be addressed as this can result in incorrect policy decisions and scarce resources not being allocated to where they are most needed. The proposed project will develop Bayesian network methods for estimating the long-term effects on disease prevalence for any planned disease intervention. Bayesian networks are an objective statistical framework for studying the effects of such interventions. They graphically represent the inter-relationships between particular disease risk factors, as well as their relationship with disease and can assess not only the direct influence of an intervention on disease but also the indirect impact due to knock on effects through other risk factors. As an example, perhaps a dietary intervention effects diabetes both directly and indirectly through its effect on blood pressure and other risk factors. In these kinds of situation, Bayesian networks can allow for more detailed and realistic assessments of the impact on disease in the population than traditional modelling approaches. The methods will initially be developed for interventions targeting stroke, but will later be extended to several other diseases. Building the network models will combine evidence about patterns of risk factor progression in large data sets with expert knowledge from medical practitioners. The outputs will be realistic and accessible estimates for the effects of public health interventions on multiple diseases.

Award Date
03 July 2017
Award Value
Principal Investigator
Dr John Ferguson
Host Institution
University of Galway
Emerging Investigator Awards