Level of education and genetic risk are key predictors of cardiovascular disease (CVD). While several studies have explored the causal mechanisms of education effects, it remains uncertain to what extent genetic risk is mediated by established CVD risk factors. This study sought to investigate this and explored the mediation of education and genetic effects on CVD by established cardiovascular risk factors in the Framingham Heart Study (FHS).
Prospective observational cohort study.
7017 participants from the FHS.
Community-based cohort of adults in Framingham, Massachusetts, USA.
Primary outcome measure
Incident CVD. The total effects of education and genetic predisposition using a 63-variant genetic risk score (GRS) on CVD, as well as those mediated by established CVD risk factors, were assessed via mediation analysis based on the counterfactual framework using Cox proportional hazards regression models.
Over a median follow-up time of 12.0 years, 1091 participants experienced a CVD event. Education and GRS displayed significant associations with CVD after adjustment for age and sex and the established risk factors smoking, total cholesterol (TC), high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), body mass index, systolic blood pressure (SBP) and diabetes. For education effects, smoking, HDL-C and SBP were estimated to mediate 18.8% (95% CI 9.5% to 43%), 11.5% (95% CI 5.7% to 29.0%) and 4.5% (95% CI 1.6% to 13.3%) of the total effect of graduate degree, respectively, with the collective of all risk factors combined mediating 38.5% (95% 24.1% to 64.9%). A much smaller proportion of the effects of GRS were mediated by established risk factors combined (17.6%, 95% CI 2.4% to 35.7%), with HDL-C and TC mediating 11.5% (95% CI 6.2% to 21.5%) and 3.1% (95% CI 0.2% to 8.3%), respectively.
Unlike education inequalities, established risk factors mediated only a fraction of GRS effects on CVD. Further research is required to elucidate the underlying causal mechanisms of genetic contributions to CVD.