Estimating the influence of body mass index (BMI) on mortality using offspring BMI as an instrumental variable

Elina Hyppönen, David Carslake, Diane J. Berry, Chris Power, George Davey Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Objective: High body mass index (BMI) is an important predictor of mortality but estimating underlying causality is hampered by confounding and pre-existing disease. Here, we use information from the offspring to approximate parental BMIs, with an aim to avoid biased estimation of mortality risk caused by reverse causality. Methods: The analyses were based on information on 9674 offspring–mother and 9096 offspring–father pairs obtained from the 1958 British birth cohort. Parental BMI–mortality associations were analysed using conventional methods and using offspring BMI as a proxy, or instrument, for their parents’ BMI. Results: In the conventional analysis, associations between parental BMI and all-cause mortality were U-shaped (Pcurvature < 0.001), while offspring BMI had linear associations with parental mortality (Ptrend < 0.001, Pcurvature > 0.46). Curvature was particularly pronounced for mortality from respiratory diseases and from lung cancer. Instrumental variable analyses suggested a positive association between BMI and mortality from all causes [mothers: HR per SD of BMI 1.43 (95% CI 1.21–1.69), fathers: HR 1.17 (1.00–1.36)] and from coronary heart disease [mothers: HR 1.65 (1.15–2.36), fathers: HR 1.51 (1.17–1.97)]. These were larger than HR from the equivalent conventional analyses, despite some attenuation by adjustment for social indicators and smoking. Conclusions: Analyses using offspring BMI as a proxy for parental BMI suggest that the apparent adverse consequences of low BMI are considerably overestimated and adverse consequences of overweight are underestimated in conventional epidemiological studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-84
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Obesity
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished or Issued - Jan 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Nutrition and Dietetics

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