Risk factors mediating the effect of body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio on cardiovascular outcomes: Mendelian randomization analysis

Int J Obes (Lond). 2021 Jul;45(7):1428-1438. doi: 10.1038/s41366-021-00807-4. Epub 2021 May 17.


Background: Higher body mass index (BMI) and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, but the extent to which this is mediated by blood pressure, diabetes, lipid traits, and smoking is not fully understood.

Methods: Using consortia and UK Biobank genetic association summary data from 140,595 to 898,130 participants predominantly of European ancestry, Mendelian randomization mediation analysis was performed to investigate the degree to which systolic blood pressure (SBP), diabetes, lipid traits, and smoking mediated an effect of BMI and WHR on the risk of coronary artery disease (CAD), peripheral artery disease (PAD) and stroke.

Results: The odds ratio of CAD per 1-standard deviation increase in genetically predicted BMI was 1.49 (95% CI 1.39 to 1.60). This attenuated to 1.34 (95% CI 1.24 to 1.45) after adjusting for genetically predicted SBP (proportion mediated 27%, 95% CI 3% to 50%), to 1.27 (95% CI 1.17 to 1.37) after adjusting for genetically predicted diabetes (41% mediated, 95% CI 18% to 63%), to 1.47 (95% CI 1.36 to 1.59) after adjusting for genetically predicted lipids (3% mediated, 95% -23% to 29%), and to 1.46 (95% CI 1.34 to 1.58) after adjusting for genetically predicted smoking (6% mediated, 95% CI -20% to 32%). Adjusting for all the mediators together, the estimate attenuated to 1.14 (95% CI 1.04 to 1.26; 66% mediated, 95% CI 42% to 91%). A similar pattern was observed when considering genetically predicted WHR as the exposure, and PAD or stroke as the outcome.

Conclusions: Measures to reduce obesity will lower the risk of cardiovascular disease primarily by impacting downstream metabolic risk factors, particularly diabetes and hypertension. Reduction of obesity prevalence alongside control and management of its mediators is likely to be most effective for minimizing the burden of obesity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Blood Pressure / genetics
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / epidemiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / genetics
  • Diabetes Mellitus / epidemiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus / genetics
  • Humans
  • Lipids / blood
  • Lipids / genetics
  • Mendelian Randomization Analysis*
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Smoking / genetics
  • Waist-Hip Ratio*


  • Lipids