David Benkeser, Andrew Mertens, John M. Colford, Alan Hubbard, Benjamin F. Arnold, Aryeh Stein, Mark J. van der Laan
August 13, 2020
We propose a method for summarizing the strength of association between a set of variables and a multivariate outcome. Classical summary measures are appropriate when linear relationships exist between covariates and outcomes, while our approach provides an alternative that is useful in situations where complex relationships may be present. We utilize machine learning to detect nonlinear relationships and covariate interactions and propose a measure of association that captures these relationships. A hypothesis test about the proposed associative measure can be used to test the strong null hypothesis of no association between a set of variables and a multivariate outcome. Simulations demonstrate that this hypothesis test has greater power than existing methods against alternatives where covariates have nonlinear relationships with outcomes. We additionally propose measures of variable importance for groups of variables, which summarize each groups’ association with the outcome. We demonstrate our methodology using data from a birth cohort study on childhood health and nutrition in the Philippines.