Best (but oft-forgotten) practices: identifying and accounting for regression to the mean in nutrition and obesity research

Background: Regression to the mean (RTM) is a statistical phenomenon where initial measurements of a variable in a nonrandom sample at the extreme ends of a distribution tend to be closer to the mean upon a second measurement. Unfortunately, failing to account for the effects of RTM can lead to incorrect conclusions on the observed mean difference between the 2 repeated measurements in a nonrandom sample that is preferentially selected for deviating from the population mean of the measured variable in a particular direction. Study designs that are susceptible to misattributing RTM as intervention effects have been prevalent in nutrition and obesity research. This field often conducts secondary analyses of existing intervention data or evaluates intervention effects in those most at risk (i.e., those with observations at the extreme ends of a distribution). Objectives: To provide best practices to avoid unsubstantiated conclusions as a result of ignoring RTM in nutrition and obesity research. Methods: We outlined best practices for identifying whether RTM is likely to be leading to biased inferences, using a flowchart that is available as a web-based app at We also provided multiple methods to quantify the degree of RTM. Results: Investigators can adjust analyses to include the RTM effect, thereby plausibly removing its biasing influence on estimating the true intervention effect. Conclusions: The identification of RTM and implementation of proper statistical practices will help advance the field by improving scientific rigor and the accuracy of conclusions. This trial was registered at as NCT00427193.
nutrition and obesity research, regression to the mean, statistical errors, treatment effect, unsupported conclusions
Thomas, Diana M; Clark, Nicholas; Turner, Dusty; Siu, Cynthia; Halliday, Tanya M; Hannon, Bridget A; Kahathuduwa, Chanaka N; Kroeger, Cynthia M; Zoh, Roger; and Allison, David B, "Best (but oft-forgotten) practices: identifying and accounting for regression to the mean in nutrition and obesity research." (2019).