European Journal of Epidemiology

, Volume 27, Issue 1, pp 53–61 | Cite as

Intergenerational change and familial aggregation of body mass index

  • Paul C. D. Johnson
  • Jennifer Logue
  • Alex McConnachie
  • Niveen M. E. Abu-Rmeileh
  • Carole Hart
  • Mark N. Upton
  • Mike Lean
  • Naveed Sattar
  • Graham Watt


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.


Obesity Body mass index Sex-specific Maternal Paternal 



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.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 84 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul C. D. Johnson
    • 1
  • Jennifer Logue
    • 2
    • 9
  • Alex McConnachie
    • 1
  • Niveen M. E. Abu-Rmeileh
    • 3
    • 4
  • Carole Hart
    • 5
  • Mark N. Upton
    • 6
  • Mike Lean
    • 7
  • Naveed Sattar
    • 2
  • Graham Watt
    • 8
  1. 1.Robertson Centre for Biostatistics, Boyd Orr BuildingUniversity of GlasgowGlasgowUK
  2. 2.Department of Metabolic Medicine, Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical SciencesUniversity of GlasgowGlasgowUK
  3. 3.Institute of Community and Public HealthBirzeit UniversityBirzeitPalestine
  4. 4.Occupied Palestinian territoryPalstena
  5. 5.Academic Unit of Public Health, Institute of Health and WellbeingUniversity of GlasgowGlasgowUK
  6. 6.Woodlands Family Medical CentreClevelandUK
  7. 7.Department of Human Nutrition, Institute of Health and WellbeingUniversity of GlasgowGlasgowUK
  8. 8.Academic Unit of General Practice and Primary Care, Institute of Health and WellbeingUniversity of GlasgowGlasgowUK
  9. 9.Department of Metabolic Medicine, BHF Glasgow Cardiovascular Research CentreUniversity of GlasgowGlasgowUK

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