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Education and coronary heart disease: a Mendelian randomization study

By Taavi Tillmann, Julien Vaucher, Aysu Okbay, Hynek Pikhart, Anne Peasey, Ruzena Kubinova, Andrzej Pajak, Abdonas Tamosiunas, Sofia Malyutina, Krista Fischer, Giovanni Veronesi, Tom Palmer, Jack Bowden, George Davey Smith, Martin Bobak, Michael V Holmes

Posted 06 Feb 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/106237 (published DOI: 10.1136/bmj.j3542)

Objectives: To determine whether educational attainment is a causal risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease. Design: Mendelian randomization study, where genetic data are used as proxies for education, in order to minimize confounding. A two-sample design was applied, where summary level genetic data was analysed from two publically available consortia. Setting: In the main analysis, we analysed genetic data from two large consortia (CARDIoGRAM and SSGAC), comprising of 112 cohorts from predominantly high-income countries. In addition, we also analysed genetic data from 7 additional large consortia, in order to identify putative causal mediators. Participants: The main analysis was of 589 377 men and women, predominantly of European origin. Exposure: A one standard deviation increase in the genetic predisposition towards higher education (i.e. 3.6 years of additional schooling). This was measured by 162 genetic variants that have been previously associated with education. Main outcome: Combined fatal and nonfatal coronary heart disease (63 746 events). Results: 3.6 years of additional education lowered the risk of coronary heart disease by a third (odds ratio = 0.67, 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.59 to 0.77, p=0.01). Equivalent increases in education were also causally associated with reductions in smoking, BMI and improvements in blood lipid profiles. Conclusions: More time spent in education is causally associated with a large reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease. This may be partly explained by changes to smoking, BMI and a blood lipids. These findings offer support for policy interventions that increase education, in order to also reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease.

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