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Obesity traits are causally implicated with risk of cardiometabolic diseases. It remains unclear whether there are similar causal effects of obesity traits on other non-communicable diseases. Also, it is largely unexplored whether there are any sex-specific differences in the causal effects of obesity traits on cardiometabolic diseases and other leading causes of death. We constructed sex-specific genetic risk scores (GRS) for three obesity traits; body mass index (BMI), waist-hip ratio (WHR), and WHR adjusted for BMI, including 565, 324, and 337 genetic variants, respectively. These GRSs were then used as instrumental variables to assess associations between the obesity traits and leading causes of mortality in the UK Biobank using Mendelian randomization. We also investigated associations with potential mediators, including smoking, glycemic and blood pressure traits. Sex-differences were subsequently assessed by Cochran's Q-test (Phet). A Mendelian randomization analysis of 228,466 women and 195,041 men showed that obesity causes coronary artery disease, stroke (particularly ischemic), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, type 2 and 1 diabetes mellitus, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, chronic liver disease, and acute and chronic renal failure. Higher BMI led to higher risk of type 2 diabetes in women than in men (Phet = 1.4×10-5). Waist-hip-ratio led to a higher risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (Phet = 3.7×10-6) and higher risk of chronic renal failure (Phet = 1.0×10-4) in men than women. Obesity traits have an etiological role in the majority of the leading global causes of death. Sex differences exist in the effects of obesity traits on risk of type 2 diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and renal failure, which may have downstream implications for public health.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS genetics

Publication Date





Big Data Institute at the Li Ka Shing Centre for Health Information and Discovery, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom.


Humans, Neoplasms, Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive, Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2, Obesity, Body Mass Index, Waist-Hip Ratio, Cause of Death, Risk Factors, Blood Pressure, Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide, Aged, Middle Aged, Female, Male, Adiposity, Coronary Artery Disease, Stroke, Genome-Wide Association Study, Mendelian Randomization Analysis