Cognitive ability and physical health: A Mendelian randomization study

Saskia Hagenaars, Catharine Gale, Ian Deary, Sarah Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Causes of the association between cognitive ability and health remain unknown, but may reflect a shared genetic aetiology. This study examines the causal genetic associations between cognitive ability and physical health. We carried out two-sample Mendelian randomization analyses using the inverse-variance weighted method to test for causality between later life cognitive ability, educational attainment (as a proxy for cognitive ability in youth), BMI, height, systolic blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and type 2 diabetes using data from six independent GWAS consortia and the UK Biobank sample (N = 112 151). BMI, systolic blood pressure, coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes showed negative associations with cognitive ability; height was positively associated with cognitive ability. The analyses provided no evidence for casual associations from health to cognitive ability. In the other direction, higher educational attainment predicted lower BMI, systolic blood pressure, coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes, and taller stature. The analyses indicated no causal association from educational attainment to physical health. The lack of evidence for causal associations between cognitive ability, educational attainment, and physical health could be explained by weak instrumental variables, poorly measured outcomes, or the small number of disease cases.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2651
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalScientific Reports
Early online date1 Jun 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Jun 2017


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