Intergenerational change and familial aggregation of body mass index


The relationship between parental BMI and that of their adult offspring, when increased adiposity can become a clinical issue, is unknown. We investigated the intergenerational change in body mass index (BMI) distribution, and examined the sex-specific relationship between parental and adult offspring BMI. Intergenerational change in the distribution of adjusted BMI in 1,443 complete families (both parents and at least one offspring) with 2,286 offspring (1,263 daughters and 1,023 sons) from the west of Scotland, UK, was investigated using quantile regression. Familial correlations were estimated from linear mixed effects regression models. The distribution of BMI showed little intergenerational change in the normal range (<25 kg/m2), decreasing overweightness (25–<30 kg/m2) and increasing obesity (≥30 kg/m2). Median BMI was static across generations in males and decreased in females by 0.4 (95% CI: 0.0, 0.7) kg/m2; the 95th percentile increased by 2.2 (1.1, 3.2) kg/m2 in males and 2.7 (1.4, 3.9) kg/m2 in females. Mothers’ BMI was more strongly associated with daughters’ BMI than was fathers’ (correlation coefficient (95% CI): mothers 0.31 (0.27, 0.36), fathers 0.19 (0.14, 0.25); P = 0.001). Mothers’ and fathers’ BMI were equally correlated with sons’ BMI (correlation coefficient: mothers 0.28 (0.22, 0.33), fathers 0.27 (0.22, 0.33). The increase in BMI between generations was concentrated at the upper end of the distribution. This, alongside the strong parent-offspring correlation, suggests that the increase in BMI is disproportionally greater among offspring of heavier parents. Familial influences on BMI among middle-aged women appear significantly stronger from mothers than fathers.

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Victor Hawthorne carried out the original Midspan studies. Pauline MacKinnon is the Midspan administrator. The Midspan Family Study was funded by the Wellcome Trust and the NHS Cardiovascular Research and Development Programme. Neither the Wellcome Trust nor the NHS Cardiovascular Research and Development Programme were involved in the study design, the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data for this paper; in the writing of the report; nor in the decision to submit the article for publication.

Ethical standard

Not required at the time of the Midspan Renfrew Paisley Study. Approval for the Midspan Family Study was granted from both the Argyll and Clyde, and Greater Glasgow Health Board Local Research Ethics Committees.

Conflicts of interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Author information

Correspondence to Jennifer Logue.

Additional information

Paul Christopher Duncan Johnson, Jennifer Logue are joint first authors.

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Johnson, P.C.D., Logue, J., McConnachie, A. et al. Intergenerational change and familial aggregation of body mass index. Eur J Epidemiol 27, 53–61 (2012) doi:10.1007/s10654-011-9639-5

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  • Obesity
  • Body mass index
  • Sex-specific
  • Maternal
  • Paternal