The Causal Effects of Health Conditions and Risk Factors on Social and Socioeconomic Outcomes: Mendelian Randomization in UK Biobank
Harrison S., Davies A., Dickson M., Tyrrell J., Green M., Katikireddi SV., Campbell D., Munafò M., Dixon P., Jones H., Rice F., Davies N., Howe L.
Abstract Objectives 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. Design 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. Setting UK Biobank. Participants 337,009 men and women of white British ancestry, aged between 39 and 72 years. Main outcome measures 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 Results suggested that BMI, smoking and alcohol intake affect many socioeconomic outcomes. For example, smoking was estimated to reduce household income (mean difference = −£24,394, 95% confidence interval (CI): −£33,403 to −£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. Conclusions 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. What is known? <jats:list list-type="bullet"><jats:list-item> Studies 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. <jats:list-item> These bidirectional relationships make it difficult to establish whether health conditions and health risk factors have causal effects on social and socioeconomic outcomes. <jats:list-item> Mendelian 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. <jats:list-item> Since 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. What this study adds <jats:list list-type="bullet"><jats:list-item> This 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. <jats:list-item> There 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. <jats:list-item> There was little evidence for causal effects of cholesterol, systolic blood pressure or breast cancer on social and socioeconomic outcomes.