# Sample Size for One Sample, Continuous Outcome

In studies where the plan is to estimate the mean of a continuous outcome variable in a single population, the formula for determining sample size is given below:  where Z is the value from the standard normal distribution reflecting the confidence level that will be used (e.g., Z = 1.96 for 95%), σ is the standard deviation of the outcome variable and E is the desired margin of error. The formula above generates the minimum number of subjects required to ensure that the margin of error in the confidence interval for μ does not exceed E.

Example 1:

An investigator wants to estimate the mean systolic blood pressure in children with congenital heart disease who are between the ages of 3 and 5. How many children should be enrolled in the study? The investigator plans on using a 95% confidence interval (so Z=1.96) and wants a margin of error of 5 units. The standard deviation of systolic blood pressure is unknown, but the investigators conduct a literature search and find that the standard deviation of systolic blood pressures in children with other cardiac defects is between 15 and 20. To estimate the sample size, we consider the larger standard deviation in order to obtain the most conservative (largest) sample size.  In order to ensure that the 95% confidence interval estimate of the mean systolic blood pressure in children between the ages of 3 and 5 with congenital heart disease is within 5 units of the true mean, a sample of size 62 is needed. [Note: We always round up; the sample size formulas always generate the minimum number of subjects needed to ensure the specified precision.] Had we assumed a standard deviation of 15, the sample size would have been n=35. Because the estimates of the standard deviation were derived from studies of children with other cardiac defects, it would be advisable to use the larger standard deviation and plan for a study with 62 children. Selecting the smaller sample size could potentially produce a confidence interval estimate with a larger margin of error. An investigator wants to estimate the mean birth weight of infants born full term (approximately 40 weeks gestation) to mothers who are 19 years of age and under. The mean birth weight of infants born full-term to mothers 20 years of age and older is 3,510 grams with a standard deviation of 385 grams. How many women 19 years of age and under must be enrolled in the study to ensure that a 95% confidence interval estimate of the mean birth weight of their infants has a margin of error not exceeding 100 grams? Try to work through the calculation before you look at the answer.