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The Causal Effects of Health Conditions and Risk Factors on Social and Socioeconomic Outcomes: Mendelian Randomization in UK Biobank

By Sean Harrison, Alisha R Davies, Matt Dickson, Jessica Tyrrell, Michael J Green, Srinivasa Vittal Katikireddi, Desmond Campbell, Marcus R Munafò, Padraig Dixon, Hayley Jones, Frances Rice, Neil M Davies, Laura D Howe

Posted 08 Oct 2019
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/19008250

ObjectivesTo 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. DesignWe 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. SettingUK Biobank. Participants337,009 men and women of white British ancestry, aged between 39 and 72 years. Main outcome measuresAnnual household income, employment, deprivation (measured by the Townsend deprivation index [TDI]), degree level education, happiness, loneliness, and 13 other social and socioeconomic outcomes. ResultsResults suggested that BMI, smoking and alcohol intake affect many socioeconomic outcomes. For example, smoking was estimated to reduce household income (mean difference = -{pound}24,394, 95% confidence interval (CI): -{pound}33,403 to -{pound}15,384), the chance of owning accommodation (absolute percentage change [APC] = -21.5%, 95% CI: -29.3% to -13.6%), being satisfied with health (APC = -32.4%, 95% CI: -48.9% to -15.8%), and of obtaining a university degree (APC = -73.8%, 95% CI: -90.7% to -56.9%), while also increasing deprivation (mean difference in TDI = 1.89, 95% CI: 1.13 to 2.64, approximately 236% of a decile of TDI). There was evidence that asthma increased deprivation and decreased both household income and the chance of obtaining a university degree, and migraine reduced the chance of having a weekly leisure or social activity, especially in men. For other associations, estimates were null. ConclusionsHigher 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. What is known?O_LIStudies have shown associations between poor health and adverse social (e.g. wellbeing, social contact) and socioeconomic (e.g. educational attainment, income, employment) outcomes, but there is also strong evidence that social and socioeconomic factors influence health. C_LIO_LIThese bidirectional relationships make it difficult to establish whether health conditions and health risk factors have causal effects on social and socioeconomic outcomes. C_LIO_LIMendelian randomization is a technique that uses genetic variants robustly related to an exposure of interest (here, health conditions and risk factors for poor health) as a proxy for the exposure. C_LIO_LISince genetic variants are randomly allocated at conception, they tend to be unrelated to the factors that typically confound observational studies, and are less likely to suffer from reverse causality, making causal inference from Mendelian randomization analyses more plausible. C_LI What this study addsO_LIThis study suggests causal effects of higher BMI, smoking and alcohol use on a range of social and socioeconomic outcomes, implying that population-level improvements in these risk factors may, in addition to the well-known health benefits, have social and socioeconomic benefits for individuals and society. C_LIO_LIThere was evidence that asthma increased deprivation, decreased household income and the chance of having a university degree, migraine reduced the chance of having a weekly leisure or social activity, especially in men, and depression increased loneliness and decreased happiness. C_LIO_LIThere was little evidence for causal effects of cholesterol, systolic blood pressure or breast cancer on social and socioeconomic outcomes. C_LI

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