Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Background Obesity is observationally associated with altered risk of many female reproductive conditions. These include polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), abnormal uterine bleeding, endometriosis, infertility, and pregnancy-related disorders. However, the roles and mechanisms of obesity in the aetiology of reproductive disorders remain unclear. Thus, we aimed to estimate observational and genetically predicted causal associations between obesity, metabolic hormones, and female reproductive disorders. Methods and findings Logistic regression, generalised additive models, and Mendelian randomisation (MR) (2-sample, non-linear, and multivariable) were applied to obesity and reproductive disease data on up to 257,193 women of European ancestry in UK Biobank and publicly available genome-wide association studies (GWASs). Body mass index (BMI), waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), and WHR adjusted for BMI were observationally (odds ratios [ORs] = 1.02–1.87 per 1-SD increase in obesity trait) and genetically (ORs = 1.06–2.09) associated with uterine fibroids (UF), PCOS, heavy menstrual bleeding (HMB), and pre-eclampsia. Genetically predicted visceral adipose tissue (VAT) mass was associated with the development of HMB (OR [95% CI] per 1-kg increase in predicted VAT mass = 1.32 [1.06–1.64], P = 0.0130), PCOS (OR [95% CI] = 1.15 [1.08–1.23], P = 3.24 × 10−05), and pre-eclampsia (OR [95% CI] = 3.08 [1.98–4.79], P = 6.65 × 10−07). Increased waist circumference posed a higher genetic risk (ORs = 1.16–1.93) for the development of these disorders and UF than did increased hip circumference (ORs = 1.06–1.10). Leptin, fasting insulin, and insulin resistance each mediated between 20% and 50% of the total genetically predicted association of obesity with pre-eclampsia. Reproductive conditions clustered based on shared genetic components of their aetiological relationships with obesity. This study was limited in power by the low prevalence of female reproductive conditions among women in the UK Biobank, with little information on pre-diagnostic anthropometric traits, and by the susceptibility of MR estimates to genetic pleiotropy. Conclusions We found that common indices of overall and central obesity were associated with increased risks of reproductive disorders to heterogenous extents in a systematic, large-scale genetics-based analysis of the aetiological relationships between obesity and female reproductive conditions. Our results suggest the utility of exploring the mechanisms mediating the causal associations of overweight and obesity with gynaecological health to identify targets for disease prevention and treatment.

Original publication




Journal article


PLOS Medicine


Public Library of Science (PLoS)

Publication Date





e1003679 - e1003679