Because of the pressure for timely, informed decisions in public health
and clinical practice and the explosion of information in the scientific literature,
research results must be synthesized. Meta-analyses are increasingly used
to address this problem, and they often evaluate observational studies. A
workshop was held in Atlanta, Ga, in April 1997, to examine the reporting
of meta-analyses of observational studies and to make recommendations to aid
authors, reviewers, editors, and readers.
Twenty-seven participants were selected by a steering committee, based
on expertise in clinical practice, trials, statistics, epidemiology, social
sciences, and biomedical editing. Deliberations of the workshop were open
to other interested scientists. Funding for this activity was provided by
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
We conducted a systematic review of the published literature on the
conduct and reporting of meta-analyses in observational studies using MEDLINE,
Educational Research Information Center (ERIC), PsycLIT, and the Current Index
to Statistics. We also examined reference lists of the 32 studies retrieved
and contacted experts in the field. Participants were assigned to small-group
discussions on the subjects of bias, searching and abstracting, heterogeneity,
study categorization, and statistical methods.
From the material presented at the workshop, the authors developed a
checklist summarizing recommendations for reporting meta-analyses of observational
studies. The checklist and supporting evidence were circulated to all conference
attendees and additional experts. All suggestions for revisions were addressed.
The proposed checklist contains specifications for reporting of meta-analyses
of observational studies in epidemiology, including background, search strategy,
methods, results, discussion, and conclusion. Use of the checklist should
improve the usefulness of meta-analyses for authors, reviewers, editors, readers,
and decision makers. An evaluation plan is suggested and research areas are