The causal effects of health conditions and risk factors on social and socioeconomic outcomes Mendelian randomization in UK Biobank.

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18 August 2020

Published journal: International Journal of Epidemiology



We aimed to estimate the causal effect of health conditions and risk factors on social and socioeconomic outcomes in UK Biobank. Evidence on socioeconomic impacts is important to understand because it can help governments, policy makers and decision makers allocate resources efficiently and effectively.


We used Mendelian randomization to estimate the causal effects of eight health conditions (asthma, breast cancer, coronary heart disease, depression, eczema, migraine, osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes) and five health risk factors [alcohol intake, body mass index (BMI), cholesterol, systolic blood pressure, smoking] on 19 social and socioeconomic outcomes in 336 997 men and women of White British ancestry in UK Biobank, aged between 39 and 72 years. Outcomes included annual household income, employment, deprivation [measured by the Townsend deprivation index (TDI)], degree-level education, happiness, loneliness and 13 other social and socioeconomic outcomes.


Results suggested that BMI, smoking and alcohol intake affect many socioeconomic outcomes. For example, smoking was estimated to reduce household income [mean difference = -£22 838, 95% confidence interval (CI): -£31 354 to -£14 321] and the chance of owning accommodation [absolute percentage change (APC) = -20.8%, 95% CI: -28.2% to -13.4%], of being satisfied with health (APC = -35.4%, 95% CI: -51.2% to -19.5%) and of obtaining a university degree (APC = -65.9%, 95% CI: -81.4% to -50.4%), while also increasing deprivation (mean difference in TDI = 1.73, 95% CI: 1.02 to 2.44, approximately 216% of a decile of TDI). There was evidence that asthma decreased household income, the chance of obtaining a university degree and the chance of cohabiting, and migraine reduced the chance of having a weekly leisure or social activity, especially in men. For other associations, estimates were null.


Higher BMI, alcohol intake and smoking were all estimated to adversely affect multiple social and socioeconomic outcomes. Effects were not detected between health conditions and socioeconomic outcomes using Mendelian randomization, with the exceptions of depression, asthma and migraines. This may reflect true null associations, selection bias given the relative health and age of participants in UK Biobank, and/or lack of power to detect effects.


Sean Harrison, Alisha R Davies, Matt Dickson, Jessica Tyrrell, Michael J Green, Srinivasa Vittal Katikireddi, Desmond Campbell, Marcus Munafò, Padraig Dixon, Hayley E Jones, Frances Rice, Neil M Davies, Laura D Howe, The causal effects of health conditions and risk factors on social and socioeconomic outcomes: Mendelian randomization in UK Biobank, International Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 49, Issue 5, October 2020, Pages 1661–1681.

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