One in five recent systematic reviews in high-impact sports science journals assessed the certainty of evidence: a systematic meta-epidemiological review

Session Type
Assessment of the certainty of evidence
Siedler MR1, Harris KN2, Rodriguez C2, Lewis MH3, Semidey-Lamadrid P4, Stratton MT2, Blacutt M5, Hosseini Z6, Falck-Ytter Y1, Mustafa RA1, Sultan S1, Dahm P1, Morgan RL1, Murad MH1
1U.S. GRADE Network, Cleveland Heights, Ohio, USA
2Department of Kinesiology and Sport Management, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, USA
3Department of Health and Kinesiology, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA
4Exercise Science Program, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida, USA
5Department of Psychology, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana, USA
6College of Kinesiology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

Background: Assessing certainty of evidence is a key element of any systematic review. It is unclear whether contemporary systematic reviews in the field of sport and exercise science provide end users with a certainty rating.
Objectives: To examine the prevalence and methods of certainty of evidence assessment in contemporary systematic reviews published in high-impact sports and exercise science journals.
Methods: A PubMed search and hand-searching of relevant journal web sites was used to identify systematic reviews published between 1 August 2016 and 11 October 2022. Two authors independently screened documents to include any systematic review published in one of the top-ten highest-impact journals within the 2020 Journal Citation Report for the Sports Sciences category that assessed certainty of evidence using any method. Certainty of evidence assessment was defined as the combination of two or more conceptual domains to provide an overall rating or statement about the confidence or trustworthiness of the evidence across studies.
Results: Of 1,250 otherwise eligible documents, 258 (20.6%) assessed the certainty of evidence. Nine methods were cited for assessing certainty, with the most common being the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) approach (61.6%). The proportion of systematic reviews assessing certainty of evidence appeared to increase over the six-year timeframe analyzed. The overwhelming majority of systematic reviews that assessed certainty of evidence addressed the domains of risk of bias, imprecision, and inconsistency of the results. Indirectness or applicability and other certainty domains were less commonly assessed.
Conclusions: Only one in five recent contemporary systematic reviews in the field of exercise and sport science assessed certainty of evidence. Organizational and institutional education on methods for assessing evidence may help further increase uptake of these methods, improve the quality and clinical impact of systematic reviews in the field, and support evidence-based decision-making among consumers and clinicians.
Patient, public and/or healthcare consumer involvement: No patients or healthcare consumers were involved in the development of this project.