No causal evidence is available to translate associations between neighborhood characteristics and health outcomes into beneficial changes to built environments. Observed associations may be causal or result from uncontrolled confounds related to family upbringing. Twin designs can help neighborhood effects studies overcome selection and reverse causation problems in specifying causal mechanisms. Beyond quantifying genetic effects (i.e., heritability coefficients), we provide examples of innovative measures and analytic methods that use twins as quasi-experimental controls for confounding by environmental effects. We conclude that collaboration among investigators from multiple fields can move the field forward by designing studies that step toward causation.
Stepping towards causation in studies of neighborhood and environmental effects: How twin research can overcome problems of selection and reverse causation. Health Place. 2014 Mar 1; 27C:106-111.