Numerous time series studies have provided strong evidence of an association between increased levels of ambient air pollution and increased levels of hospital admissions, typically at 0, 1, or 2 days after an air pollution episode. An important research aim is to extend existing statistical models so that a more detailed understanding of the time course of hospitalization after exposure to air pollution can be obtained. Information about this time course, combined with prior knowledge about biological mechanisms, could provide the basis for hypotheses concerning the mechanism by which air pollution causes disease. Previous studies have identified two important methodological questions: (1) How can we estimate the shape of the distributed lag between increased air pollution exposure and increased mortality or morbidity? and (2) How should we estimate the cumulative population health risk from short-term exposure to air pollution? Distributed lag models are appropriate tools for estimating air pollution health effects that may be spread over several days. However, estimation for distributed lag models in air pollution and health applications is hampered by the substantial noise in the data and the inherently weak signal that is the target of investigation. We introduce an hierarchical Bayesian distributed lag model that incorporates prior information about the time course of pollution effects and combines information across multiple locations. The model has a connection to penalized spline smoothing using a special type of penalty matrix. We apply the model to estimating the distributed lag between exposure to particulate matter air pollution and hospitalization for cardiovascular and respiratory disease using data from a large United States air pollution and hospitalization database of Medicare enrollees in 94 counties covering the years 1999-2002.


Statistical Models