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Mayr, Andreas; Hothorn, Torsten und Fenske, Nora: Prediction intervals for future BMI values of individual children - a non-parametric approach by quantile boosting. In: BMC Medical Research Methodology 2012, 12:6


Background: The construction of prediction intervals (PIs) for future body mass index (BMI) values of individual children based on a recent German birth cohort study with n = 2007 children is problematic for standard parametric approaches, as the BMI distribution in childhood is typically skewed depending on age. Methods: We avoid distributional assumptions by directly modelling the borders of PIs by additive quantile regression, estimated by boosting. We point out the concept of conditional coverage to prove the accuracy of PIs. As conditional coverage can hardly be evaluated in practical applications, we conduct a simulation study before fitting child- and covariate-specific PIs for future BMI values and BMI patterns for the present data. Results: The results of our simulation study suggest that PIs fitted by quantile boosting cover future observations with the predefined coverage probability and outperform the benchmark approach. For the prediction of future BMI values, quantile boosting automatically selects informative covariates and adapts to the age-specific skewness of the BMI distribution. The lengths of the estimated PIs are child-specific and increase, as expected, with the age of the child. Conclusions: Quantile boosting is a promising approach to construct PIs with correct conditional coverage in a non-parametric way. It is in particular suitable for the prediction of BMI patterns depending on covariates, since it provides an interpretable predictor structure, inherent variable selection properties and can even account for longitudinal data structures.