Exercise: Estimation, standard error and confidence intervals

Preterm births

A UK study of factors affecting the outcome of pregnancy among 1513 women reported that the overall incidence of preterm births was 7.5%, SE=0.68%, 95% CI 6.1 to 8.8% (Peacock et al., 1995).

Questions about preterm births

  1. What is meant by SE=0.68%? What kind of diagram is this?
    Check suggested answer.

  2. What is meant by 95% CI 6.1 to 8.8%?
    Check suggested answer.

  3. How would the confidence interval change if 90% limits were used?
    Check suggested answer.

  4. How would the confidence interval change if 99% limits were used?
    Check suggested answer.

Another study conducted at about the same time in Denmark and including 51851 women, reported that the overall incidence of preterm birth was 4.5% (95% CI 4.3 to 4.7%).

  1. Explain why this 95% confidence interval is narrower than that reported in the UK study. Do you think that there is a real difference in preterm birth rates between the two populations being studied?
    Check suggested answer.

Exercise, bone density and falls

In a study of bone density and falls in older women, 118 volunteers were randomized to receive either calcium supplements plus a program of exercise classes or to calcium alone for two years. Twelve subjects dropped out from the calcium group and 14 from the calcium group taking exercise, leaving 92 subjects who completed the two year project. The percentage change in bone mineral content and bone mineral density in two years was calculated for each individual. The authors reported that for the ultradistal forearm the change in bone mineral content was –2.6 (95% confidence interval –4.6 to –0.6) in the calcium only group and 1.14 (95% confidence interval –0.8 to 3.1) in the calcium group taking exercise (McMurdo et al., 1997).

Questions about exercise, bone density and fallsn

  1. What do the confidence intervals for the change in bone mineral content mean? To what population do they refer?
    Check suggested answer.

  2. Confidence intervals are presented for each group separately. Suggest a more informative confidence interval. To which population would this relate?
    Check suggested answer.


McMurdo, M.E., Mole, P.A., and Paterson, P.R. (1997) Controlled trial of weight bearing exercise in older women in relation to bone density and falls. British Medical Journal 314, 569.

Peacock, J.L., Bland, J.M., and Anderson, H.R. (1995) Preterm delivery: effects of socioeconomic factors, psychological stress, smoking, alcohol, and caffeine. British Medical Journal 311, 531-5.

(Questions taken from Martin Bland and Janet Peacock: Statistical Questions in Evidence-based Medicine, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000.)

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Last updated: 27 July, 2009.

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