Food and Behaviour Research

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Evaluation of the causal effects between subjective wellbeing and cardiometabolic health: mendelian randomisation study

Wootton RE, Lawn RB, Millard LAC, Davies NM, Taylor AE, Munafò MR, Timpson NJ, Davis OSP, Davey Smith G, Haworth CMA (2018) BMJ.  2018 Sep;362: k3788. doi: 10.1136/bmj.k3788. 

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To investigate whether the association between subjective wellbeing (subjective happiness and life satisfaction) and cardiometabolic health is causal.


Two sample, bidirectional mendelian randomisation study.


Genetic data taken from various cohorts comprised of the general population (mostly individuals of European ancestry, plus a small proportion of other ancestries); follow-up analysis included individuals from the United Kingdom.


Summary data were used from previous genome wide association studies (number of participants ranging from 83 198 to 339 224), which investigated traits related to cardiovascular or metabolic health, had the largest sample sizes, and consisted of the most similar populations while minimising sample overlap. A follow-up analysis included 337 112 individuals from the UK Biobank (54% female (n=181 363), mean age 56.87 years (standard deviation 8.00) at recruitment).


Subjective wellbeing and 11 measures of cardiometabolic health (coronary artery disease; myocardial infarction; total, high density lipoprotein, and low density lipoprotein cholesterol; diastolic and systolic blood pressure; body fat; waist to hip ratio; waist circumference; and body mass index).


Evidence of a causal effect of body mass index on subjective wellbeing was seen; each 1 kg/m2 increase in body mass index caused a -0.045 (95% confidence interval -0.084 to -0.006, P=0.02) standard deviation reduction in subjective wellbeing. Follow-up analysis of this association in an independent sample from the UK Biobank provided strong evidence of an effect of body mass index on satisfaction with health (β=-0.035 unit decrease in health satisfaction (95% confidence interval -0.043 to -0.027) per standard deviation increase in body mass index, P<0.001). No clear evidence of a causal effect was seen between subjective wellbeing and the other cardiometabolic health measures, in either direction.


These results suggest that a higher body mass index is associated with a lower subjective wellbeing. A follow-up analysis confirmed this finding, suggesting that the effect in middle aged people could be driven by satisfaction with health. Body mass index is a modifiable determinant, and therefore, this study provides further motivation to tackle the obesity epidemic because of the knock-on effects of higher body mass index on subjective wellbeing.


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