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Cognitive ability and physical health: a Mendelian randomization study

By Saskia Hagenaars, Catharine Gale, Ian J Deary, Sarah E Harris

Posted 01 Nov 2016
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/084798 (published DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-02837-3)

Causes of the association between cognitive ability and health remain unknown, but may reflect a shared genetic aetiology. This study examines the causal genetic associations between cognitive ability and physical health. We carried out two-sample Mendelian randomization analyses using the inverse-variance weighted method to test for causality between later life cognitive ability, educational attainment (as a proxy for cognitive ability in youth), BMI, height, systolic blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and type 2 diabetes using data from six independent GWAS consortia and the UK Biobank sample (N = 112 151). BMI, systolic blood pressure, coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes showed negative associations with cognitive ability; height was positively associated with cognitive ability. The analyses provided no evidence for casual associations from health to cognitive ability. In the other direction, higher educational attainment predicted lower BMI, systolic blood pressure, coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes, and taller stature. The analyses indicated no causal association from educational attainment to physical health. The lack of evidence for causal associations between cognitive ability, educational attainment, and physical health could be explained by weak instrumental variables, poorly measured outcomes, or the small number of disease cases.

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