Behavior Genetics

, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 326–333

Genetic and Environmental Factors Affecting Self-Rated Health from Age 16–25: A Longitudinal Study of Finnish Twins

  • Karri Silventoinen
  • Danielle Posthuma
  • Eero Lahelma
  • Richard J. Rose
  • Jaakko Kaprio
Original Paper


We analyzed genetic and environmental determinants of self-rated health and its change from adolescence to early adulthood. Questionnaires were mailed to Finnish twins born 1975–1979 at ages 16, 17, \(18\frac{1}{2}\) and, on average, 25 years of age (N = 2465 complete twin pairs). The data were analyzed using quantitative genetic methods for twin data by the Mx statistical package. Heritability of self-rated health was greatest at age 16 (63%, 95% confidence intervals (CI) 56–67%, men and women together) and declined steadily to age 25 (33%, 95% CI 25–41%). The residual variation was due to unshared environments. Health ratings at different ages were modestly correlated (r = 0.33–0.61). These correlations were mainly due to genetic factors, but unshared environment also contributed to them. An important challenge for further research is to identify environmental influences contributing to self-rated health independently of, or in interaction with, genetic factors.


Self-rated health Adolescence Heritability 


  1. Boomsma D, Busjahn A, Peltonen L (2002) Classical twin studies and beyond. Nat Rev Genet 3:872–882PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Christensen K, Holm NV, McGue M, Corder L, Vaupel JW (1999) A Dannish population-based twin study on general health in the elderly. J Aging Health 11:49–64PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Elstad JI (2005) Childhood adversities and health variations among middle-aged men: a retrospective lifecourse study. Eur J Public Health 15:51–58PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Harris JR, Pedersen NL, McClearn GE, Plomin R, Nesselroade JR (1992) Age differences in genetic and environmental influences for health from the Swedish Adoption/Twin Study of Aging. J Gerontol 47:P213–P220PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Idler EL, Benyamini Y (1997) Self-rated health and mortality: a review of twenty-seven community studies. J Health Soc Behav 38:21–37PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Idler EL, Kasl SV (1995) Self-ratings of health: do they also predict change in functional ability? J Gerontol 50B:S344–S353Google Scholar
  7. Kaprio J, Pulkkinen L, Rose RJ (2002) Genetic and environmental factors in health-related behaviours: studies on Finnish twins and twin families. Twin Res 5:366–371PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Leinonen R, Kaprio J, Jylhä M, Tolvanen A, Koskenvuo M, Heikkinen E, Rantanen T (2005) Genetic influences underlying self-rated health in older female twins. J Am Geriatr Soc 53:1002–1007PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Loos R, Derom C, Vlietinck R, Derom R (1998) The East Flanders prospective twin survey (Belgium): a population-based register. Twin Res 4:167–175CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Mäkinen T, Laaksonen M, Lahelma E, Rahkonen O (2006) Associations of childhood circumstances with physical and mental functioning in adulthood. Soc Sci Med 62:1831–1839PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Manderbacka K (1998) Examining what self-rated health question is understood to mean by respondents. Scand J Soc Med 26:145–153PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Manderbacka K, Lahelma E, Martikainen P (1998). Examining the continuity of self-rated health. Int J Epidemiol 27:208–213PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Martikainen P, Aromaa A, Heliövaara M, Klaukka T, Knekt P, Maatela J, Lahelma E (1999) Reliability of perceived health by sex and age. Soc Sci Med 48:1117–1122PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Miilunpalo S, Vuori I, Oja P, Pasanen M, Urponen H (1997) Self-rated health status as a health measure: the predictive value of self-reported health status on the use of physician services and on mortality in the working-age population. J Clin Epidemiol 50:517–528PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Neale MC (2003) Mx: statistical modeling. 2 edn. Box 710 MCV, Richmond, VA 23298: Department of PsychiatryGoogle Scholar
  16. Neale MC, Cardon LR (1992) Methodology for genetic studies of twins and families. Kluwer Academic Publisher, DordrechtGoogle Scholar
  17. Plomin R, Spinath FM (2004) Intelligence: genetics, genes, and genomics. J Pers Soc Psychol 86:112–129PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Power C, Hyppönen E, Davey Smith G (2005) Socioeconomic position in childhood and early adult life and risk of mortality: a prospective study of the mothers of the 1958 British birth cohort. Am J Public Health 95:1396–1402PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Rahkonen O, Arber S, Lahelma E (1995) Health inequalities in early adulthood: a comparison of young men and women in Britain and Finland. Soc Sci Med 41:163–171PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Romeis JC, Scherrer JF, Xian H, Eisen SA, Bucholz K, Heath AC, Goldberg J, Lyons MJ, Henderson WG, True WR (2000) Heritability of self-reported health. Health Serv Res 35:995–1010PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Røysamb E, Tambs K, Reichborn-Kjennerud T, Neale MC, Harris JR (2003) Happiness and health: environmental and genetic contributions to the relationship between subjective well-being, perceived health, and somatic illness. J Pers Soc Psychol 85:1136–1146PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Sarna S, Kaprio J, Sistonen P, Koskenvuo M (1978) Diagnosis of twin zygosity by mailed questionnaire. Hum Hered 28:241–254PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Svedberg P, Lichtenstein P, Pedersen NL (2001) Age and sex differences in genetic and environmental factors for self-rated health: a twin study. J Gerontol 56B:S171–S178Google Scholar
  24. Sweeting H (1995) Reversals of fortune? Sex differences in health in childhood and adolescence. Soc Sci Med 40:77–90PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Sweeting H, West P (2003) Sex differences in health at ages 11, 13 and 15. Soc Sci Med 56:31–39PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karri Silventoinen
    • 1
  • Danielle Posthuma
    • 2
  • Eero Lahelma
    • 1
  • Richard J. Rose
    • 1
    • 3
  • Jaakko Kaprio
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Public HealthUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland
  2. 2.Department of Biological PsychologyFree University of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  4. 4.Department of Mental Health and Alcohol ResearchNational Public Health InstituteHelsinkiFinland

Personalised recommendations