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J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2018 Mar 14;73(4):477-483. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glx154.

Genetic Risks for Chronic Conditions: Implications for Long-term Wellbeing.

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Department of Health Management and Policy, University of Iowa, IA.
Department of Economics, University of Iowa, IA.
Department of Preventive & Community Dentistry, and Public Policy Center, University of Iowa, IA.
National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA.
Graduate School of Education, Stanford University, CA.



Relationships between genetic risks for chronic diseases and long-run wellbeing are largely unexplored. We examined the associations between genetic predispositions to several chronic conditions and long-term functional health and socioeconomic status (SES).


We used data on a nationally representative sample of 9,317 adults aged 65 years or older from the 1992 to 2012 Health and Retirement Survey (HRS) in the US. Survey data were linked to genetic data on nearly 2 million single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). We measured individual-level genetic predispositions for coronary-artery disease, type 2 diabetes (T2D), obesity, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), Alzheimer's disease, and major depressive disorder (MDD) by polygenic risk scores (PRS) derived from genome-wide association studies (GWAS). The outcomes were self-rated health, depressive symptoms, cognitive ability, activities of everyday life, educational attainment, and wealth. We employed regression analyses for the outcomes including all polygenic scores and adjusting for gender, birth period, and genetic ancestry.


The polygenic scores had important associations with functional health and SES. An increase in genetic risk for all conditions except T2D was significantly (p < .01) associated with reduced functional health and socioeconomic outcomes. The magnitudes of functional health declines were meaningful and in many cases equivalent in magnitude to several years of aging. These associations were robust to several sensitivity checks for ancestry and adjustment for parental educational attainment and age at death or the last interview if alive.


Stronger genetic predispositions for leading chronic conditions are related to worse long-run health and SES outcomes, likely reflecting the adverse effects of the onset of these conditions on one's wellbeing.

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