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Testing the causal effects between subjective wellbeing and physical health using Mendelian randomisation

By Robyn E Wootton, Rebecca B Lawn, Louise A C Millard, Neil M Davies, Amy E Taylor, Marcus R Munafo, Nicholas J. Timpson, Oliver S P Davis, George Davey Smith, Claire M A Haworth

Posted 20 Apr 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/304741

Objectives: To investigate whether the association between subjective wellbeing (subjective happiness and life satisfaction) and physical health is causal. Design: We conducted two-sample bidirectional Mendelian randomisation between subjective wellbeing and six measures of physical health: coronary artery disease, myocardial infarction, total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and body mass index (BMI). Participants: We used summary data from four large genome-wide association study consortia: CARDIoGRAMplusC4D for coronary artery disease and myocardial infarction; the Global Lipids Genetics Consortium for cholesterol measures; the Genetic Investigation of Anthropometric Traits consortium for BMI; and the Social Science Genetics Association Consortium for subjective wellbeing. A replication analysis was conducted using 337,112 individuals from the UK Biobank (54% female, mean age =56.87, SD=8.00 years at recruitment). Main outcome measures: Coronary artery disease, myocardial infarction, total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, BMI and subjective wellbeing. Results: There was evidence of a causal effect of BMI on subjective wellbeing such that each 1 kg/m2 increase in BMI caused a 0.045 (95%CI 0.006 to 0.084, p=0.023) SD reduction in subjective wellbeing. Replication analyses provided strong evidence of an effect of BMI on satisfaction with health (Beta=0.034 (95% CI: -0.042 to -0.026) unit decrease in health satisfaction per SD increase in BMI, p<2-16). There was no clear evidence of a causal effect between subjective wellbeing and the other physical health measures in either direction. Conclusions: Our results suggest that a higher BMI lowers subjective wellbeing. Our replication analysis confirmed this finding, suggesting the effect in middle-age is driven by satisfaction with health. BMI is a modifiable determinant and therefore, our study provides further motivation to tackle the obesity epidemic because of the knock-on effects of higher BMI on subjective wellbeing.

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