Evaluating the direct effects of childhood adiposity on adult systemic metabolism: A multivariable Mendelian randomization analysis

Tom G. Richardson, Juha Mykkänen, Katja Pahkala, Mika Ala-Korpela, Joshua A. Bell, Kurt Taylor, Jorma Viikari, Terho Lehtimäki, Olli Raitakari, George Davey Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Background: Individuals who are obese in childhood have an elevated risk of disease in adulthood. However, whether childhood adiposity directly impacts intermediate markers of this risk, independently of adult adiposity, is unclear. In this study, we have simultaneously evaluated the effects of childhood and adulthood body size on 123 systemic molecular biomarkers representing multiple metabolic pathways. Methods: Two-sample Mendelian randomization (MR) was conducted to estimate the causal effect of childhood body size on a total of 123 nuclear magnetic resonance-based metabolic markers using summary genome-wide association study (GWAS) data from up to 24 925 adults. Multivariable MR was then applied to evaluate the direct effects of childhood body size on these metabolic markers whilst accounting for adult body size. Further MR analyses were undertaken to estimate the potential mediating effects of these circulating metabolites on the risk of coronary artery disease (CAD) in adulthood using a sample of 60 801 cases and 123 504 controls. Results: Univariable analyses provided evidence that childhood body size has an effect on 42 of the 123 metabolic markers assessed (based on P < 4.07 × 10-4). However, the majority of these effects (35/42) substantially attenuated when accounting for adult body size using multivariable MR. We found little evidence that the biomarkers that were potentially influenced directly by childhood body size (leucine, isoleucine and tyrosine) mediate this effect onto adult disease risk. Very-low-density lipoprotein markers provided the strongest evidence of mediating the long-term effect of adiposity on CAD risk. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that childhood adiposity predominantly exerts its detrimental effect on adult systemic metabolism along a pathway that involves adulthood body size.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1580-1592
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Cardiometabolic disease
  • Childhood adiposity
  • Mendelian randomization
  • Metabolic biomarkers
  • Young Finns Study

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 3

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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