Investigation of bias due to selective inclusion of study effect estimates in meta-analyses of nutrition research

Raju Kanukula, Joanne E. McKenzie, Lisa Bero, Zhaoli Dai, Sally McDonald, Cynthia M. Kroeger, Elizabeth Korevaar, Andrew Forbes, Matthew J. Page (Leading Author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


We aimed to explore, in a sample of systematic reviews (SRs) with meta-analyses of the association between food/diet and health-related outcomes, whether systematic reviewers selectively included study effect estimates in meta-analyses when multiple effect estimates were available. We randomly selected SRs of food/diet and health-related outcomes published between January 2018 and June 2019. We selected the first presented meta-analysis in each review (index meta-analysis), and extracted from study reports all study effect estimates that were eligible for inclusion in the meta-analysis. We calculated the Potential Bias Index (PBI) to quantify and test for evidence of selective inclusion. The PBI ranges from 0 to 1; values above or below 0.5 suggest selective inclusion of effect estimates more or less favourable to the intervention, respectively. We also compared the index meta-analytic estimate to the median of a randomly constructed distribution of meta-analytic estimates (i.e., the estimate expected when there is no selective inclusion). Thirty-nine SRs with 312 studies were included. The estimated PBI was 0.49 (95% CI 0.42–0.55), suggesting that the selection of study effect estimates from those reported was consistent with a process of random selection. In addition, the index meta-analytic effect estimates were similar, on average, to what we would expect to see in meta-analyses generated when there was no selective inclusion. Despite this, we recommend that systematic reviewers report the methods used to select effect estimates to include in meta-analyses, which can help readers understand the risk of selective inclusion bias in the SRs.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
JournalResearch Synthesis Methods
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2024


  • bias
  • meta-analysis
  • nutrition
  • selective inclusion
  • systematic review

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