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Int J Epidemiol. 2019 Dec 4. pii: dyz240. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyz240. [Epub ahead of print]

Effects of body mass index on relationship status, social contact and socio-economic position: Mendelian randomization and within-sibling study in UK Biobank.

Author information

MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol, Population Health Sciences, Bristol Medical School, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK.
Genetics of Complex Traits, University of Exeter Medical School, RILD Level 3, Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital, Exeter, UK.
Research and Evaluation Division, Public Health Wales, 2 Capital Quarter, Cardiff, UK.
Centre for Health Economics and Policy Innovation, Imperial College Business School, London, UK.



We assessed whether body mass index (BMI) affects social and socio-economic outcomes.


We used Mendelian randomization (MR), non-linear MR and non-genetic and MR within-sibling analyses, to estimate relationships of BMI with six socio-economic and four social outcomes in 378 244 people of European ancestry in UK Biobank.


In MR of minimally related individuals, higher BMI was related to higher deprivation, lower income, fewer years of education, lower odds of degree-level education and skilled employment. Non-linear MR suggested both low (bottom decile, <22 kg/m2) and high (top seven deciles, >24.6 kg/m2) BMI, increased deprivation and reduced income. Non-genetic within-sibling analysis supported an effect of BMI on socio-economic position (SEP); precision in within-sibling MR was too low to draw inference about effects of BMI on SEP. There was some evidence of pleiotropy, with MR Egger suggesting limited effects of BMI on deprivation, although precision of these estimates is also low. Non-linear MR suggested that low BMI (bottom three deciles, <23.5 kg/m2) reduces the odds of cohabiting with a partner or spouse in men, whereas high BMI (top two deciles, >30.7 kg/m2) reduces the odds of cohabitation in women. Both non-genetic and MR within-sibling analyses supported this sex-specific effect of BMI on cohabitation. In men only, higher BMI was related to lower participation in leisure and social activities. There was little evidence that BMI affects visits from friends and family or having someone to confide in.


BMI may affect social and socio-economic outcomes, with both high and low BMI being detrimental for SEP, although larger within-family MR studies may help to test the robustness of MR results in unrelated individuals. Triangulation of evidence across MR and within-family analyses supports evidence of a sex-specific effect of BMI on cohabitation.


Body mass index; Mendelian randomization; cohabitation; obesity; siblings; social contact; socio-economic


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