Meta-analysis and subgroups

Michael Borenstein, Julian P T Higgins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

413 Citations (Scopus)


Subgroup analysis is the process of comparing a treatment effect for two or more variants of an intervention-to ask, for example, if an intervention's impact is affected by the setting (school versus community), by the delivery agent (outside facilitator versus regular classroom teacher), by the quality of delivery, or if the long-term effect differs from the short-term effect. While large-scale studies often employ subgroup analyses, these analyses cannot generally be performed for small-scale studies, since these typically include a homogeneous population and only one variant of the intervention. This limitation can be bypassed by using meta-analysis. Meta-analysis allows the researcher to compare the treatment effect in different subgroups, even if these subgroups appear in separate studies. We discuss several statistical issues related to this procedure, including the selection of a statistical model and statistical power for the comparison. To illustrate these points, we use the example of a meta-analysis of obesity prevention.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)134-43
Number of pages10
JournalPrevention Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2013


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