European Journal of Epidemiology

, Volume 27, Issue 4, pp 247–253 | Cite as

Heritability of body mass index in pre-adolescence, young adulthood and late adulthood

  • Cassandra Nan
  • Boliang Guo
  • Claire Warner
  • Tom Fowler
  • Timothy Barrett
  • Dorret Boomsma
  • Tracy Nelson
  • Keith Whitfield
  • Gaston Beunen
  • Martine Thomis
  • Hermine Hendrik Maes
  • Catherine Derom
  • Juan Ordoñana
  • Jonathan Deeks
  • Maurice Zeegers


Increased body mass index (BMI) is a worldwide health issue. Individual differences in the susceptibility to increased BMI could be related to genes or environment. We performed a systematic review of genetic studies on BMI in pre-adolescence, young adulthood and late adulthood. We searched PubMed and EMBASE with heritability, body mass index, BMI, weight, height, anthropometry and twins as search terms. Studies reporting intra-pair correlations of healthy twin pairs that were raised together were included. This resulted in the inclusion of 8,179 monozygotic (MZ) and 9,977 dizygotic (DZ) twin pairs from twelve published studies in addition to individual participant data for 629 MZ and 594 DZ pairs from four twin registries. Structural equation modelling with intra-pair twin correlations showed that the heritability of BMI remained high over all age categories ranging from 61 % (95 % CI 54–64 %) to 80 % (95 % CI 76–81 %) for male and female subjects combined, while unique environmental influences increased from 14 % (95 % CI 13–15 %) to 40 % (95 % CI 37–43 %) with increasing age. Heritability of BMI remains consistently high over different age categories. Environmental changes over time do not seem to have as big a relative impact on an individual’s weight as previously reported, suggesting a mainly genetic influence on variation in BMI over the years.


Twins Heritability BMI Body mass index Anthropometry Life span 



Additive genetic influences


Body mass index


Common environmental influences


Carolina African American Twin Study of Aging




Unique environmental influences


East Flanders Prospective Twin Study


Individual participant data


Leuven Longitudinal Twin Study


Murcia Twin Register




Netherlands Twin Registry


Twins Early Development Study


World Health Organisation



The authors would like to thank Raymond Timmins of the Department of Public Health at the University of Birmingham (UK) for gathering a large part of the papers. This research was funded by the Birmingham Children’s Hospital Research Foundation (BCHRF102f). The MTR is supported by the Seneca Foundation (08633/PHCS/08) and MICINN (PSI11560-2009). LLTS is supported by the Research Fund Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (OT/86/80), National Bank of Belgium, Fund for Medical Research Belgium (3.0038.82, 3.0008.90, 3.0098.91), and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (860823). This study was previously published in abstract form in Twin Research and Human Genetics (2010): 13(3), p279.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cassandra Nan
    • 1
  • Boliang Guo
    • 2
  • Claire Warner
    • 1
    • 3
  • Tom Fowler
    • 1
    • 4
  • Timothy Barrett
    • 5
  • Dorret Boomsma
    • 6
  • Tracy Nelson
    • 7
  • Keith Whitfield
    • 8
  • Gaston Beunen
    • 9
  • Martine Thomis
    • 9
  • Hermine Hendrik Maes
    • 9
    • 10
  • Catherine Derom
    • 11
  • Juan Ordoñana
    • 12
  • Jonathan Deeks
    • 2
  • Maurice Zeegers
    • 1
    • 13
  1. 1.Unit of Urologic and Genetic Epidemiology, Department of Public Health, Epidemiology and BiostatisticsUniversity of BirminghamBirminghamUK
  2. 2.Biostatistics Group, Department of Public Health, Epidemiology and BiostatisticsUniversity of BirminghamBirminghamUK
  3. 3.Mental Health Commissioning and Service RedesignNHSCambridgeshireUK
  4. 4.Department of Public HealthHeart of Birmingham Teaching PCTBirminghamUK
  5. 5.School of Clinical and Experimental MedicineUniversity of BirminghamBirminghamUK
  6. 6.Department of Biological PsychologyVU UniversityAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  7. 7.Health and Exercise Science and Colorado School of Public HealthColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUnited States of America
  8. 8.Department of Psychology and NeuroscienceDuke UniversityDurhamUnited States of America
  9. 9.Department of Kinesiology, Faculty of Kinesiology and Rehabilitation SciencesKatholieke Universiteit LeuvenLeuvenBelgium
  10. 10.Department of Human and Molecular Genetics, Virginia Institute of Psychiatric and Behavioral GeneticsVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUnited States of America
  11. 11.Department of Human GeneticsUniversity Hospital Gasthuisberg, Katholieke Universiteit LeuvenLeuvenBelgium
  12. 12.Area of PsychobiologyUniversity of MurciaMurciaSpain
  13. 13.Department of Complex Genetics, Cluster of Genetics and Cell Biology, Nutrition and Toxicology Research Institute MaastrichtMaastricht UniversityMaastrichtThe Netherlands

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