Search tips
Search criteria

Results 1-25 (112)

Clipboard (0)

Select a Filter Below

Year of Publication
more »
1.  Assessing Causality in the Association between Child Adiposity and Physical Activity Levels: A Mendelian Randomization Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(3):e1001618.
Here, Timpson and colleagues performed a Mendelian Randomization analysis to determine whether childhood adiposity causally influences levels of physical activity. The results suggest that increased adiposity causes a reduction in physical activity in children; however, this study does not exclude lower physical activity also leading to increasing adiposity.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Cross-sectional studies have shown that objectively measured physical activity is associated with childhood adiposity, and a strong inverse dose–response association with body mass index (BMI) has been found. However, few studies have explored the extent to which this association reflects reverse causation. We aimed to determine whether childhood adiposity causally influences levels of physical activity using genetic variants reliably associated with adiposity to estimate causal effects.
Methods and Findings
The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children collected data on objectively assessed activity levels of 4,296 children at age 11 y with recorded BMI and genotypic data. We used 32 established genetic correlates of BMI combined in a weighted allelic score as an instrumental variable for adiposity to estimate the causal effect of adiposity on activity.
In observational analysis, a 3.3 kg/m2 (one standard deviation) higher BMI was associated with 22.3 (95% CI, 17.0, 27.6) movement counts/min less total physical activity (p = 1.6×10−16), 2.6 (2.1, 3.1) min/d less moderate-to-vigorous-intensity activity (p = 3.7×10−29), and 3.5 (1.5, 5.5) min/d more sedentary time (p = 5.0×10−4). In Mendelian randomization analyses, the same difference in BMI was associated with 32.4 (0.9, 63.9) movement counts/min less total physical activity (p = 0.04) (∼5.3% of the mean counts/minute), 2.8 (0.1, 5.5) min/d less moderate-to-vigorous-intensity activity (p = 0.04), and 13.2 (1.3, 25.2) min/d more sedentary time (p = 0.03). There was no strong evidence for a difference between variable estimates from observational estimates. Similar results were obtained using fat mass index. Low power and poor instrumentation of activity limited causal analysis of the influence of physical activity on BMI.
Our results suggest that increased adiposity causes a reduction in physical activity in children and support research into the targeting of BMI in efforts to increase childhood activity levels. Importantly, this does not exclude lower physical activity also leading to increased adiposity, i.e., bidirectional causation.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
The World Health Organization estimates that globally at least 42 million children under the age of five are obese. The World Health Organization recommends that all children undertake at least one hour of physical activity daily, on the basis that increased physical activity will reduce or prevent excessive weight gain in children and adolescents. In practice, while numerous studies have shown that body mass index (BMI) shows a strong inverse correlation with physical activity (i.e., active children are thinner than sedentary ones), exercise programs specifically targeted at obese children have had only very limited success in reducing weight. The reasons for this are not clear, although environmental factors such as watching television and lack of exercise facilities are traditionally blamed.
Why Was This Study Done?
One of the reasons why obese children do not lose weight through exercise might be that being fat in itself leads to a decrease in physical activity. This is termed reverse causation, i.e., obesity causes sedentary behavior, rather than the other way around. The potential influence of environmental factors (e.g., lack of opportunity to exercise) makes it difficult to prove this argument. Recent research has demonstrated that specific genotypes are related to obesity in children. Specific variations within the DNA of individual genes (single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs) are more common in obese individuals and predispose to greater adiposity across the weight distribution. While adiposity itself can be influenced by many environmental factors that complicate the interpretation of observed associations, at the population level, genetic variation is not related to the same factors, and over the life course cannot be changed. Investigations that exploit these properties of genetic associations to inform the interpretation of observed associations are termed Mendelian randomization studies. This research technique is used to reduce the influence of confounding environmental factors on an observed clinical condition. The authors of this study use Mendelian randomization to determine whether a genetic tendency towards high BMI and fat mass is correlated with reduced levels of physical activity in a large cohort of children.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers looked at a cohort of children from a large long-term health research project (the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children). BMI and total body fat were recorded. Total daily activity was measured via a small movement-counting device. In addition, the participants underwent genotyping to detect the presence of several SNPs known to be linked to obesity. For each child a total BMI allelic score was determined based on the number of obesity-related genetic variants carried by that individual. The association between obesity and reduced physical activity was then studied in two ways. Direct correlation between actual BMI and physical activity was measured (observational data). Separately, the link between BMI allelic score and physical activity was also determined (Mendelian randomization or instrumental variable analysis). The observational data showed that boys were more active than girls and had lower BMI. Across both sexes, a higher-than-average BMI was associated with lower daily activity. In genetic analyses, allelic score had a positive correlation with BMI, with one particular SNP being most strongly linked to high BMI and total fat mass. A high allelic score for BMI was also correlated with lower levels of daily physical activity. The authors conclude that children who are obese and have an inherent predisposition to high BMI also have a propensity to reduced levels of physical activity, which may compound their weight gain.
What Do These Findings Mean?
This study provides evidence that being fat is in itself a risk factor for low activity levels, separately from external environmental influences. This may be an example of “reverse causation,” i.e., high BMI causes a reduction in physical activity. Alternatively, there may be a bidirectional causality, so that those with a genetic predisposition to high fat mass exercise less, leading to higher BMI, and so on, in a vicious circle. A significant limitation of the study is that validated allelic scores for physical activity are not available. Thus, it is not possible to determine whether individuals with a high allelic score for BMI also have a propensity to exercise less, or whether it is simply the circumstance of being overweight that discourages activity. This study does suggest that trying to persuade obese children to lose weight by exercising more is likely to be ineffective unless additional strategies to reduce BMI, such as strict diet control, are also implemented.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides obesity-related statistics, details of prevention programs, and an overview on public health strategy in the United States
A more worldwide view is given by the World Health Organization
The UK National Health Service website gives information on physical activity guidelines for different age groups
The International Obesity Task Force is a network of organizations that seeks to alert the world to the growing health crisis threatened by soaring levels of obesity
MedlinePlus—which brings together authoritative information from the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, and other government agencies and health-related organizations—has a page on obesity
Additional information on the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children is available
The British Medical Journal has an article that describes Mendelian randomization
PMCID: PMC3958348  PMID: 24642734
2.  Personality, Behavior and Environmental Features Associated with OXTR Genetic Variants in British Mothers 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e90465.
It is assumed that the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) is associated with factors that are related to features of reproduction as well as the currently emerging fields of mood and emotional response.
We analysed data from over 8000 mothers who participated in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). We determined reproductive, emotional and personality differences related to the two SNPs rs53576 and rs2254298 of the oxytocin receptor gene to determine whether there was evidence in this population for: (i) associations with emotional and personality differences, and (ii) behavioural or environmental links with these SNPs using a hypothesis free approach with over 1000 types of exposure.
Our analyses of 7723 women showed that there were no differences in 11 mood, social or relationship characteristics associated with the rs2254298, and just one with rs53576 (with emotional loneliness) – one statistically significant out of 22 tests is no more than would be expected by chance. There were no interactions with childhood abuse. Using a hypothesis-free approach we found few indicators of environmental or behavioural differences associated with rs2254298, but there was an excess of associations with eating habits with rs53576. The findings included an association with dieting to lose weight, and habits typical of bulimia for the women with GG. The nutrition of the women also showed negative associations of the GG genotype with 13 nutrients, including vitamins D, B12 and retinol, and intake of calcium, potassium and iodine.
We conclude that this large database of pregnant women was unable to provide confirmation of the types of personality associated with these two OXTR SNPs, but we have shown some evidence of eating differences in those with GG on rs53576. Confirmation of our hypothesis free associations using other data sets is important.
PMCID: PMC3951216  PMID: 24621820
3.  The Association of Early Life Supplemental Nutrition With Lean Body Mass and Grip Strength in Adulthood: Evidence From APCAPS 
American Journal of Epidemiology  2014;179(6):700-709.
In the present study, we examined the associations of early nutrition with adult lean body mass (LBM) and muscle strength in a birth cohort that was established to assess the long-term impact of a nutrition program. Participants (n = 1,446, 32% female) were born near Hyderabad, India, in 29 villages from 1987 to 1990, during which time only intervention villages (n = 15) had a government program that offered balanced protein-calorie supplementation to pregnant women and children. Participants’ LBM and appendicular skeletal muscle mass were measured using dual energy x-ray absorptiometry; grip strength and information on lifestyle indicators, including diet and physical activity level, were also obtained. Ages (mean = 20.3 years) and body mass indexes (weight (kg)/height (m)2; mean = 19.5) of participants in 2 groups were similar. Current dietary energy intake was higher in the intervention group. Unadjusted LBM and grip strength were similar in 2 groups. After adjustment for potential confounders, the intervention group had lower LBM (β = −0.75; P = 0.03), appendicular skeletal muscle mass, and grip strength than did controls, but these differences were small in magnitude (<0.1 standard deviation). Multivariable regression analyses showed that current socioeconomic position, energy intake, and physical activity level had a positive association with adult LBM and muscle strength. This study could not detect a “programming” effect of early nutrition supplementation on adult LBM and muscle strength.
PMCID: PMC3939852  PMID: 24553777
body composition; cohort study; developmental origins of health and disease; grip strength; lean body mass; muscle mass; nutrition; physical activity
4.  Is the Growth of the Fetus of a Non-Smoking Mother Influenced by the Smoking of Either Grandmother while Pregnant? 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e86781.
There are animal data that indicate that prenatal environmental exposures have sex-specific effects on subsequent generations. In humans, an increase in birthweight has been reported if the maternal grandmother had smoked in the pregnancy giving rise to the mother. Here we assess whether prenatal exposure of either parent to cigarette smoke has a sex-specific effect on the grandchild's birth measurements.
Information from 12707 maternal and 9677 paternal grandmothers of children in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) concerned whether they had smoked while expecting the study parent. Study children were weighed and measured at birth. Analyses to test effects of grandmaternal prenatal smoking used multiple regression allowing for several potential confounders; analyses were restricted to births to non-smoking study mothers.
After adjustment, the average birthweight, birth length and BMI measurements of the grandsons (but not granddaughters) were greater if the maternal grandmother smoked prenatally: birthweight  = +61 [95% CI +30, +92] g; birth length  = +0·19 [95% CI +0·02, +0·35] cm; BMI  = +1·6 [95% CI +0·6, +2·6] g/m2. Similar effects were seen in births to primiparae and multiparae. Additional allowance for maternal birthweight resulted in an average increase in boys to +100 g [95% CI +61, +140] g. There were no fetal growth differences if the paternal grandmother had smoked prenatally.
The evidence from this study suggests that when the mother does not smoke in pregnancy the maternal grandmother's smoking habit in pregnancy has a positive association with her grandson's fetal growth.
PMCID: PMC3913581  PMID: 24504157
Placenta  2013;34(8):672-675.
A small placental surface at birth has been shown to be associated with the development of hypertension in later life. In this study we extend this observation by looking at the relationship between the number of placental cotyledons and blood pressure in childhood. Because the number of cotyledons is correlated with the surface area, we hypothesized that fewer cotyledons would be associated with higher blood pressure.
The Alspac study is a longitudinal study of 13,971 children born in Bristol. Their placentas were stored in formalin. We photographed the placentas of a sample of the children and related the number of maternal cotyledons to their blood pressure levels at age 9 years.
Contrary to our hypothesis, a greater number of maternal cotyledons was associated with higher blood pressure. Among boys, a greater number of cotyledons was associated with higher systolic and diastolic pressure but not with higher pulse pressure. Diastolic pressure rose by 2.2 mmHg (95% CI 0.6 to 3.7, p =0.007) for every 10 additional cotyledons. Among girls, a greater number of cotyledons was associated with higher systolic pressure and pulse pressure but not with higher diastolic pressure. Pulse pressure rose by 2.7 mmHg (1.1 to 4.3, p<0.001) for every 10 additional cotyledons. These associations were little changed by adjustment for placental surface area.
Our study has shown that a large number of maternal cotyledons is associated with raised blood pressure in childhood. The associations differ in the two sexes.
PMCID: PMC3733167  PMID: 23731799
Alspac; maternal cotyledons; blood pressure
7.  Socio-Demographic Inequalities in the Prevalence, Diagnosis and Management of Hypertension in India: Analysis of Nationally-Representative Survey Data 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e86043.
Hypertension is a major contributing factor to the current epidemic of cardiovascular disease in India. Small studies suggest high, and increasing, prevalence especially in urban areas, with poor detection and management, but national data has been lacking. The aim of the current study was to use nationally-representative survey data to examine socio-demographic inequalities in the prevalence, diagnosis and management of hypertension in Indian adults.
Using data on self-reported diagnosis and treatment, and blood pressure measurement, collected from 12,198 respondents aged 18+ in the 2007 WHO Study on Global Ageing and Adult Health in India, factors associated with prevalence, diagnosis and treatment of hypertension were investigated.
22% men and 26% women had hypertension; prevalence increased steeply with body mass index (<18.5 kg/m2: 18% men, 21% women; 25-29.9 kg/m2: 35% men, 35% women), was higher in the least poor vs. poorest (men: odds ratio (95%CI) 1.82 (1.20 to 2.76); women: 1.40 (1.08 to 1.81)), urban vs. rural men (1.64 (1.19 to 2.25)), and men recently vs. never using alcohol (1.96 (1.40 to 2.76)). Over half the hypertension in women, and 70% in men, was undetected with particularly poor detection rates in young urban men, and in poorer households. Two-thirds of men and women with detected hypertension were treated. Two-thirds of women treated had their hypertension controlled, irrespective of urban/rural setting or wealth. Adequate blood pressure control was sub-optimal in urban men.
Hypertension is very common in India, even among underweight adults and those of lower socioeconomic position. Improved detection is needed to reduce the burden of disease attributable to hypertension. Levels of treatment and control are relatively good, particularly in women, although urban men require more careful attention.
PMCID: PMC3900470  PMID: 24465859
8.  A recall-by-genotype study of CHRNA5-A3-B4 genotype, cotinine and smoking topography: study protocol 
BMC Medical Genetics  2014;15:13.
Genome-wide association studies have revealed an association between several loci in the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor gene cluster CHRNA5-A3-B4 and daily cigarette consumption. Recent studies have sought to refine this phenotype, and have shown that a locus within this cluster, marked primarily by rs1051730 and rs16969968, is also associated with levels of cotinine, the primary metabolite of nicotine. This association remains after adjustment for self-reported smoking, which suggests that even amongst people who smoke the same number of cigarettes there is still genetically-influenced variation in nicotine consumption. This is likely to be due to differences in smoking topography, that is, how a cigarette is smoked (e.g., volume of smoke inhaled per puff, number of puffs taken per cigarette). The aim of this study is to determine potential mediation of the relationship between the rs1051730 locus and cotinine levels by smoking topography.
Adopting a recall-by-genotype design, we will recruit 200 adults from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children on the basis of minor or major homozygote status at rs1051730 (100 in each genotype group). All participants will be current, daily smokers. Our primary study outcome measures will be measures of smoking topography: total volume of smoke (ml) inhaled per cigarette, total volume of smoke (ml) inhaled over of the course of one day, and salivary cotinine level (ng/ml).
This study will extend our understanding of the biological basis of inter-individual variability in heaviness of smoking, and therefore in exposure to smoking-related toxins. The novel recall-by-genotype approach we will use is efficient, maximising statistical power, and enables the collection of extremely precise phenotypic data that are impractical to collect in a larger sample. The methods described within this protocol also hold the potential for wider application in the field of molecular genetics.
PMCID: PMC3900674  PMID: 24451018
Smoking; Cotinine; Genetics; CHRNA3; CHRNA5; Smoking topography
9.  Prenatal alcohol exposure and childhood atopic disease: A Mendelian randomization approach☆ 
Alcohol consumption in western pregnant women is not uncommon and could be a risk factor for childhood atopic disease. However, reported alcohol intake may be unreliable, and associations are likely to be confounded.
We aimed to study the relation between prenatal alcohol exposure and atopic phenotypes in a large population-based birth cohort with the use of a Mendelian randomization approach to minimize bias and confounding.
In white mothers and children in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) we first analyzed associations between reported maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy and atopic outcomes in the offspring measured at 7 years of age (asthma, wheezing, hay fever, eczema, atopy, and total IgE). We then analyzed the relation of maternal alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH)1B genotype (rs1229984) with these outcomes (the A allele is associated with faster metabolism and reduced alcohol consumption and, among drinkers, would be expected to reduce fetal exposure to ethanol).
After controlling for confounders, reported maternal drinking in late pregnancy was negatively associated with childhood asthma and hay fever (adjusted odds ratio [OR] per category increase in intake: 0.91 [95% CI, 0.82-1.01] and 0.87 [95% CI, 0.78-0.98], respectively). However, maternal ADH1B genotype was not associated with asthma comparing carriers of A allele with persons homozygous for G allele (OR, 0.98 [95% CI, 0.66-1.47]) or hay fever (OR, 1.11 [95% CI, 0.71-1.72]), nor with any other atopic outcome.
We have found no evidence to suggest that prenatal alcohol exposure increases the risk of asthma or atopy in childhood.
PMCID: PMC3884122  PMID: 23806636
Alcohol; ADH1B; Mendelian randomization; prenatal exposure; ALSPAC; pregnancy; birth cohort; asthma; atopy; ADH, Alcohol dehydrogenase; ALSPAC, Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC); GWAS, Genome Wide Association Study; PCA, Principal Components Analysis
10.  Effects of Nutritional Supplementation during Pregnancy on Early Adult Disease Risk: Follow Up of Offspring of Participants in a Randomised Controlled Trial Investigating Effects of Supplementation on Infant Birth Weight 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e83371.
Observational evidence suggests that improving fetal growth may improve adult health. Experimental evidence from nutritional supplementation trials undertaken amongst pregnant women in the less developed world does not show strong or consistent effects on adult disease risk and no trials from the more developed world have previously been reported.
To test the hypothesis that nutritional supplementation during pregnancy influences offspring disease risk in adulthood
Clinical assessment of a range of established diseases risk markers in young adult offspring of 283 South Asian mothers who participated in two trials of nutritional supplementation during pregnancy (protein/energy/vitamins; energy/vitamins or vitamins only) at Sorrento Maternity Hospital in Birmingham UK either unselected or selected on the basis of nutritional status.
236 (83%) offspring were traced and 118 (50%) of these were assessed in clinic. Protein/energy/vitamins supplementation amongst undernourished mothers was associated with increased infant birthweight. Nutritional supplementation showed no strong association with any one of a comprehensive range of markers of adult disease risk and no consistent pattern of association with risk across markers in offspring of either unselected or undernourished mothers.
We found no evidence that nutritional supplements given to pregnant women are an important influence on adult disease risk however our study lacked power to estimate small effects. Our findings do not provide support for a policy of nutritional supplementation for pregnant women as an effective means to improve adult health in more developed societies.
PMCID: PMC3862758  PMID: 24349496
11.  Association of a Body Mass Index Genetic Risk Score with Growth throughout Childhood and Adolescence 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e79547.
While the number of established genetic variants associated with adult body mass index (BMI) is growing, the relationships between these variants and growth during childhood are yet to be fully characterised. We examined the association between validated adult BMI associated single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and growth trajectories across childhood. We investigated the timing of onset of the genetic effect and whether it was sex specific.
Children from the ALSPAC and Raine birth cohorts were used for analysis (n = 9,328). Genotype data from 32 adult BMI associated SNPs were investigated individually and as an allelic score. Linear mixed effects models with smoothing splines were used for longitudinal modelling of the growth parameters and measures of adiposity peak and rebound were derived.
The allelic score was associated with BMI growth throughout childhood, explaining 0.58% of the total variance in BMI in females and 0.44% in males. The allelic score was associated with higher BMI at the adiposity peak (females  =  0.0163 kg/m2 per allele, males  =  0.0123 kg/m2 per allele) and earlier age (-0.0362 years per allele in males and females) and higher BMI (0.0332 kg/m2 per allele in females and 0.0364 kg/m2 per allele in males) at the adiposity rebound. No gene:sex interactions were detected for BMI growth.
This study suggests that known adult genetic determinants of BMI have observable effects on growth from early childhood, and is consistent with the hypothesis that genetic determinants of adult susceptibility to obesity act from early childhood and develop over the life course.
PMCID: PMC3823612  PMID: 24244521
12.  KCTD8 Gene and Brain Growth in Adverse Intrauterine Environment: A Genome-wide Association Study 
Cerebral Cortex (New York, NY)  2011;22(11):2634-2642.
The most dramatic growth of the human brain occurs in utero and during the first 2 years of postnatal life. Genesis of the cerebral cortex involves cell proliferation, migration, and apoptosis, all of which may be influenced by prenatal environment. Here, we show that variation in KCTD8 (potassium channel tetramerization domain 8) is associated with brain size in female adolescents (rs716890, P = 5.40 × 10−09). Furthermore, we found that the KCTD8 locus interacts with prenatal exposure to maternal cigarette smoking vis-à-vis cortical area and cortical folding: In exposed girls only, the KCTD8 locus explains up to 21% of variance. Using head circumference as a proxy of brain size at 7 years of age, we have replicated this gene–environment interaction in an independent sample. We speculate that KCTD8 might modulate adverse effects of smoking during pregnancy on brain development via apoptosis triggered by low intracellular levels of potassium, possibly reducing the number of progenitor cells.
PMCID: PMC3464418  PMID: 22156575
adolescence; brain; GWAS; pregnancy
13.  Effect of Prenatal Alcohol Exposure on Childhood Academic Outcomes: Contrasting Maternal and Paternal Associations in the ALSPAC Study 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e74844.
The impact of low-to-moderate levels of alcohol consumption during pregnancy on child cognitive outcomes has been of recent concern. This study has tested the hypothesis that low-to-moderate maternal alcohol use in pregnancy is associated with lower school test scores at age 11 in the offspring via intrauterine mechanisms.
We used data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a birth cohort study based in the South West of England. Analyses were conducted on 7062 participants who had complete data on: maternal and paternal patterns of alcohol use in the first trimester and at 18 weeks' gestation, child's academic outcomes measured at age 11, gender, maternal age, parity, marital status, ethnicity, household crowding, home ownership status and parental education. We contrasted the association of mother's alcohol consumption during pregnancy with child's National Curriculum Key Stage 2 (KS2) test scores with the association for father's alcohol consumption (during the time the mother was pregnant) with child's National Curriculum Key Stage 2 (KS2) test scores. We used multivariate linear regression to estimate mean differences and 95% confidence intervals [CI] in KS2 scores across the exposure categories and computed f statistics to compare maternal and paternal associations.
Findings and conclusions
Drinking up to 1 unit of alcohol a day during pregnancy was not associated with lower test scores. However, frequent prenatal consumption of 4 units (equivalent to 32 grams of alcohol) on each single drinking occasion was associated with reduced educational attainment [Mean change in offspring KS2 score was −0.68 (−1.03, −0.33) for maternal alcohol categories compared to 0.27 (0.07, 0.46) for paternal alcohol categories]. Frequent consumption of 4 units of alcohol during pregnancy may adversely affect childhood academic outcomes via intrauterine mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC3794033  PMID: 24130672
14.  Prenatal alcohol exposure and offspring cognition and school performance. A ‘Mendelian randomization’ natural experiment 
Background There is substantial debate as to whether moderate alcohol use during pregnancy could have subtle but important effects on offspring, by impairing later cognitive function and thus school performance. The authors aimed to investigate the unconfounded effect of moderately increased prenatal alcohol exposure on cognitive/educational performance.
Methods We used mother-offspring pairs participating in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) and performed both conventional observational analyses and Mendelian randomization using an ADH1B variant (rs1229984) associated with reduced alcohol consumption. Women of White European origin with genotype and self-reported prenatal alcohol consumption, whose offspring’s IQ score had been assessed in clinic (N = 4061 pairs) or Key Stage 2 (KS2) academic achievement score was available through linkage to the National Pupil Database (N = 6268), contributed to the analyses.
Results Women reporting moderate drinking before and during early pregnancy were relatively affluent compared with women reporting lighter drinking, and their children had higher KS2 and IQ scores. In contrast, children whose mothers’ genotype predisposes to lower consumption or abstinence during early pregnancy had higher KS2 scores (mean difference +1.7, 95% confidence interval +0.4, +3.0) than children of mothers whose genotype predisposed to heavier drinking, after adjustment for population stratification.
Conclusions Better offspring cognitive/educational outcomes observed in association with prenatal alcohol exposure presumably reflected residual confounding by factors associated with social position and maternal education. The unconfounded Mendelian randomization estimates suggest a small but potentially important detrimental effect of small increases in prenatal alcohol exposure, at least on educational outcomes.
PMCID: PMC3807618  PMID: 24065783
Alcohol dehydrogenase; causality; cognition; confounding factors; educational measurement; ethanol; Mendelian randomization analysis; pregnancy
15.  Parent-Offspring Body Mass Index Associations in the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study: A Family-based Approach to Studying the Role of the Intrauterine Environment in Childhood Adiposity 
American Journal of Epidemiology  2012;176(2):83-92.
In the present study, the authors investigated the role of the intrauterine environment in childhood adiposity by comparing the maternal-offspring body mass index (BMI) association with the paternal-offspring BMI association when the offspring were 3 years of age, using parental prepregnancy BMI (measured as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared). The parent-offspring trios (n = 29,216) were recruited during pregnancy from 2001 to 2008 into the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study conducted by The Norwegian Institute of Public Health. Data from self-administered questionnaires were used in linear regression analyses. Crude analyses showed similar parental-offspring BMI associations; the mean difference in offspring BMI was 0.15 (95% confidence interval: 0.13, 0.16) per each 1-standard-deviation increase in maternal BMI and 0.15 (95% confidence interval: 0.13, 0.17) per each 1-standard-deviation increase in paternal BMI. After all adjustments, the mean difference in offspring BMI per each 1-standard-deviation increment of maternal BMI was 0.12, and the mean difference in offspring BMI per each 1-standard-deviation increment of paternal BMI was 0.13. There was no strong support for heterogeneity between the associations (P > 0.6). In conclusion, results from the present large population-based study showed similar parental-offspring BMI associations when the offspring were 3 years of age, which indicates that the maternal-offspring association may be explained by shared familial (environmental and genetic) risk factors rather than by the intrauterine environment.
PMCID: PMC3493198  PMID: 22771730
adiposity; body mass index; child, preschool; fathers; infant; mothers; overweight; pregnancy
16.  Associations of mortality with own height using son's height as an instrumental variable 
Economics and Human Biology  2013;11(3):351-359.
► Associations of exposures with mortality may be confounded by existing ill health. ► We used a son's height as an instrument for parents’ height to avoid confounding. ► Parents of taller sons had lower cardiovascular and respiratory disease mortality. ► Parents of taller sons had higher mortality from cancer. ► Previous studies of height are not substantially confounded by existing ill health.
Height is associated with mortality from many diseases, but it remains unclear whether the association is causal or due to confounding by social factors, genetic pleiotropy,1 or existing ill-health. The authors investigated whether the association of height with mortality is causal by using a son's height as an instrumental variable (IV) for parents’ height among the parents of a cohort of 1,036,963 Swedish men born between 1951 and 1980 who had their height measured at military conscription, aged around 18, between 1969 and 2001. In a two-sample IV analysis adjusting for son's age at examination and secular trends in height, as well as parental age, and socioeconomic position, the hazard ratio (HR) for all-cause paternal mortality per standard deviation (SD, 6.49 cm) of height was 0.96 (95% confidence interval (CI): 0.95, 0.96). The results of IV analyses of mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease (CVD), respiratory disease, cancer, external causes and suicide were comparable to those obtained using son's height as a simple proxy for own height and to conventional analyses of own height in the present data and elsewhere, suggesting that such conventional analyses are not substantially confounded by existing ill-health.
PMCID: PMC3685807  PMID: 22560304
IV, instrumental variable; HR, hazard ratio; SD, standard deviation; CI, confidence interval; CVD, cardiovascular disease; BMI, body mass index; SEP, socioeconomic position; CHD, coronary heart disease; Body height; Mortality; Confounding factor; Causality; Cohort studies
17.  Polyunsaturated fatty acid levels in blood during pregnancy, at birth and at 7 years: their associations with two common FADS2 polymorphisms 
Human Molecular Genetics  2011;21(7):1504-1512.
Minor alleles of polymorphisms in the fatty acid desaturase (FADS) gene cluster have been associated with reduced desaturation of the precursor polyunsaturated fatty acids (FAs) in small studies. The effects of these polymorphisms during progressive developmental stages have not previously been reported. Data from blood samples for 4342 pregnant women, 3343 umbilical cords reflecting the newborn's blood supply and 5240 children aged 7 years were analysed to investigate the associations of polyunsaturated FAs with rs1535 and rs174575—two polymorphisms in the FADS2 gene. Strong positive associations were observed between the minor G allele for these two markers, especially rs1535, and the substrates linoleic (18:2n-6) and α-linolenic (18:3n-3) acid. Negative associations were observed for the more highly unsaturated FAs such as arachidonic acid (20:4n-6), timnodonic acid (EPA, 20:5n-3) and cervonic acid (DHA, 22:6n-3). Bivariable genetic associations using the mother and child genotypes suggested that the newborn metabolism had a greater capacity to synthesize the more highly unsaturated omega-6 FAs than the more highly unsaturated omega-3 FAs. Nevertheless, despite the immaturity of the neonate, there was evidence that synthesis of DHA was occurring. However, by 7 years, no associations were observed with the maternal genotype. This suggested that the children's FA levels were related only to their own metabolism with no apparent lasting influences of the in utero environment.
PMCID: PMC3465695  PMID: 22194195
18.  Postnatal Growth and DNA Methylation Are Associated With Differential Gene Expression of the TACSTD2 Gene and Childhood Fat Mass 
Diabetes  2012;61(2):391-400.
Rapid postnatal growth is associated with increased risk of childhood adiposity. The aim of this study was to establish whether this pathway is mediated by altered DNA methylation and gene expression. Two distinct cohorts, one preterm (n = 121) and one term born (n = 6,990), were studied. Exploratory analyses were performed using microarrays to identify differentially expressed genes in whole blood from children defined as “slow” (n = 10) compared with “rapid” (n = 10) postnatal (term to 12 weeks corrected age) growers. Methylation within the identified TACSTD2 gene was measured in both cohorts, and rs61779296 genotype was determined by Pyrosequencing or imputation and analyzed in relation to body composition at 9–15 years of age. In cohort 1, TACSTD2 expression was inversely correlated with methylation (P = 0.016), and both measures were associated with fat mass (expression, P = 0.049; methylation, P = 0.037). Although associated with gene expression (cohort 1, P = 0.008) and methylation (cohort 1, P = 2.98 × 10−11; cohort 2, P = 3.43 × 10−15), rs61779296 was not associated with postnatal growth or fat mass in either cohort following multiple regression analysis. Hence, the lack of association between fat mass and a methylation proxy SNP suggests that reverse causation or confounding may explain the initial association between fat mass and gene regulation. Noncausal methylation patterns may still be useful predictors of later adiposity.
PMCID: PMC3266428  PMID: 22190649
19.  Two-step epigenetic Mendelian randomization: a strategy for establishing the causal role of epigenetic processes in pathways to disease 
The burgeoning interest in the field of epigenetics has precipitated the need to develop approaches to strengthen causal inference when considering the role of epigenetic mediators of environmental exposures on disease risk. Epigenetic markers, like any other molecular biomarker, are vulnerable to confounding and reverse causation. Here, we present a strategy, based on the well-established framework of Mendelian randomization, to interrogate the causal relationships between exposure, DNA methylation and outcome. The two-step approach first uses a genetic proxy for the exposure of interest to assess the causal relationship between exposure and methylation. A second step then utilizes a genetic proxy for DNA methylation to interrogate the causal relationship between DNA methylation and outcome. The rationale, origins, methodology, advantages and limitations of this novel strategy are presented.
PMCID: PMC3304531  PMID: 22422451
DNA methylation; Mendelian randomization; confounding; reverse causation; mediation
20.  Is epidemiology ready for epigenetics? 
PMCID: PMC3304535  PMID: 22422447
21.  High bone mass is associated with an increased prevalence of joint replacement: a case–control study 
Rheumatology (Oxford, England)  2013;52(6):1042-1051.
Objective. Epidemiological studies have shown an association between OA and increased BMD. To explore the nature of this relationship, we examined whether the risk of OA is increased in individuals with high bone mass (HBM), in whom BMD is assumed to be elevated due to a primary genetic cause.
Methods. A total of 335 115 DXA scans were screened to identify HBM index cases (defined by DXA scan as an L1 Z-score of ≥+3.2 and total hip Z-score ≥+1.2, or total hip Z-score ≥+3.2 and L1 Z-score ≥+1.2). In relatives, the definition of HBM was L1 Z-score plus total hip Z-score ≥+3.2. Controls comprised unaffected relatives and spouses. Clinical indicators of OA were determined by structured assessment. Analyses used logistic regression adjusting for age, gender, BMI and social deprivation.
Results. A total of 353 HBM cases (mean age 61.7 years, 77% female) and 197 controls (mean age 54.1 years, 47% female) were included. Adjusted NSAID use was more prevalent in HBM cases versus controls [odds ratio (OR) 2.17 (95% CI 1.10, 4.28); P = 0.03]. The prevalence of joint replacement was higher in HBM cases (13.0%) than controls (4.1%), with an adjusted OR of 2.42 (95% CI 1.06, 5.56); P = 0.04. Adjusted prevalence of joint pain and knee crepitus did not differ between cases and controls.
Conclusion. HBM is associated with increased prevalence of joint replacement surgery and NSAID use compared with unaffected controls.
PMCID: PMC3651613  PMID: 23362220
osteoarthritis; high bone mass; bone mineral density; DXA; joint replacement
22.  Associations of Gestational Diabetes, Existing Diabetes, and Glycosuria With Offspring Obesity and Cardiometabolic Outcomes 
Diabetes Care  2011;35(1):63-71.
To assess associations of gestational diabetes, existing diabetes, and glycosuria with adiposity and cardiometabolic risk factors in offspring at adolescence.
Multivariable regression analyses were conducted in a prospective pregnancy cohort (n = 2,563–4,198 for different outcomes). Obstetric data were abstracted from clinical records. Offspring outcomes were assessed at mean age 15.5 years. Compared with those lost to follow-up, participants included in the analysis were of higher socioeconomic position. Outcomes included BMI, waist circumference, fat mass determined by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry scan, systolic and diastolic blood pressure (sBP and dBP, respectively), fasting glucose, insulin, lipids, and C-reactive protein (CRP).
Maternal existing diabetes, gestational diabetes, and glycosuria were associated with higher offspring BMI and fat mass (z scores); however, this effect was attenuated in the confounder-adjusted model, and the CIs included the null value. Existing diabetes and gestational diabetes were associated with higher offspring fasting glucose levels (0.24 mmol/L [95% CI 0.03–0.45] and 0.20 mmol/L [0.02–0.39], respectively). Glycosuria was associated with higher fasting insulin (adjusted ratio of geometric means 1.12 [1.01–1.25]), but there were no clear associations of existing or gestational diabetes with offspring fasting insulin. There was little evidence of an association of maternal diabetes or glycosuria with offspring dBP, sBP, lipids, or CRP.
Maternal pregnancy glycosuria, gestational diabetes, and existing diabetes show some associations with higher offspring fasting glucose and insulin assessed in adolescence but are not clearly associated with a wider range of cardiometabolic risk factors.
PMCID: PMC3241309  PMID: 22124718
23.  The effect of fat mass on educational attainment: Examining the sensitivity to different identification strategies 
Economics and Human Biology  2012;10(4):405-418.
► We examine the effect of adolescent adiposity on educational outcomes. ► We compare the findings using different approaches used in the literature. ► We use an individual fixed effects as well as IV approach, with different sets of instruments. ► We conclude that adiposity is unlikely to causally affect academic achievement in adolescence.
The literature that examines the relationship between child or adolescent Body Mass Index (BMI) and academic attainment generally finds mixed results. This may be due to the use of different data sets, conditioning variables, or methodologies: studies either use an individual fixed effects (FE) approach and/or an instrumental variable (IV) specification. Using one common dataset, the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, and a common set of controls, this paper compares the different approaches (including using different types of IV's), discusses their appropriateness, and contrasts their findings. We show that, although the results differ depending on the approach, most estimates cannot be statistically distinguished from OLS, nor from each other. Examining the potential violations of key assumptions of the different approaches and comparing their point estimates, we conclude that fat mass is unlikely to be causally related to academic achievement in adolescence.
PMCID: PMC3899051  PMID: 22709667
Instrumental variables; Fixed effects; ALSPAC
24.  Fetal Alcohol Exposure and IQ at Age 8: Evidence from a Population-Based Birth-Cohort Study 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e49407.
Observational studies have generated conflicting evidence on the effects of moderate maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy on offspring cognition mainly reflecting problems of confounding. Among mothers who drink during pregnancy fetal alcohol exposure is influenced not only by mother’s intake but also by genetic variants carried by both the mother and the fetus. Associations between children’s cognitive function and both maternal and child genotype at these loci can shed light on the effects of maternal alcohol consumption on offspring cognitive development.
We used a large population based study of women recruited during pregnancy to determine whether genetic variants in alcohol metabolising genes in this cohort of women and their children were related to the child’s cognitive score (measured by the Weschler Intelligence Scale) at age 8.
We found that four genetic variants in alcohol metabolising genes in 4167 children were strongly related to lower IQ at age 8, as was a risk allele score based on these 4 variants. This effect was only seen amongst the offspring of mothers who were moderate drinkers (1–6 units alcohol per week during pregnancy (per allele effect estimates were −1.80 (95% CI = −2.63 to −0.97) p = 0.00002, with no effect among children whose mothers abstained during pregnancy (0.16 (95%CI = −1.05 to 1.36) p = 0.80), p-value for interaction  = 0.009). A further genetic variant associated with alcohol metabolism in mothers was associated with their child’s IQ, but again only among mothers who drank during pregnancy.
PMCID: PMC3498109  PMID: 23166662
25.  Parental height in relation to offspring coronary heart disease: examining transgenerational influences on health using the west of Scotland Midspan Family Study 
Background Adult height is known to be inversely related to coronary heart disease (CHD) risk. We sought to investigate transgenerational influence of parental height on offspring’s CHD risk.
Methods Parents took part in a cardiorespiratory disease survey in two Scottish towns during the 1970s, in which their physical stature was measured. In 1996, their offspring were invited to participate in a similar survey, which included an electrocardiogram recording and risk factor assessment.
Results A total of 2306 natural offspring aged 30–59 years from 1456 couples were subsequently flagged for notification of mortality and followed for CHD-related hospitalizations. Taller paternal and/or maternal height was associated with socio-economic advantage, heavier birthweight and increased high-density lipoprotein cholesterol in offspring. Increased height in fathers, but more strongly in mothers (risk ratio for 1 SD change in maternal height = 0.85; 95% confidence interval: 0.76 to 0.95), was associated with a lower risk of offspring CHD, adjusting for age, sex, other parental height and CHD risk factors.
Conclusion There is evidence of an association between taller parental, particularly maternal, height and lower offspring CHD risk. This may reflect an influence of early maternal growth on the intrauterine environment provided for her offspring.
PMCID: PMC3535757  PMID: 23087191
Coronary heart disease; mortality; intergenerational; height

Results 1-25 (112)