Advantageous early-life environments cushion the genetic risk for ischemic heart disease

Samuel Baker, Pietro Biroli, Hans van Kippersluis, Stephanie von Hinke*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In one of the first papers on the impact of early-life conditions on individuals' health in older age, Barker and Osmond [Lancet, 327, 1077-1081 (1986)] show a strong positive relationship between infant mortality rates in the 1920s and ischemic heart disease in the 1970s. We merge historical data on infant mortality rates to 370,000 individual records in the UK Biobank using information on local area and year of birth. We replicate the association between the early-life infant mortality rate and later-life ischemic heart disease in our sample. We then go "beyond Barker," by showing considerable genetic heterogeneity in this association that is robust to within-area as well as within-family analyses. We find no association between the polygenic index and heart disease in areas with the lowest infant mortality rates, but a strong positive relationship in areas characterized by high infant mortality. These findings suggest that advantageous environments can cushion one's genetic disease risk.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2314056121
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number27
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jul 2024


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