The Contribution of Heredity to Clinical Obesity

  • Johanna C. Andersson
  • Andrew J. WalleyEmail author
Part of the Endocrine Updates book series (ENDO, volume 30)


Obesity has been present in the human population at a low frequency for a very long time, most likely caused by rare monogenic or syndromic genetic disease. In the last few decades of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, rates of obesity have greatly increased, initially in the USA, then in other Western industrialized countries until we now have a genuinely global epidemic. As evolution works on a far longer timescale than this, it has been concluded by many that genetics cannot possibly play a part in common obesity. However, many studies have demonstrated significant heritability for obesity-related traits, including body mass index (BMI), waist circumference (WC), waist–hip ratio (WHR), and eating behavior. One example would be twin studies of BMI, which have generated heritability estimates of 0.5–0.7 for this trait, commonly used to define clinical obesity. In this chapter we review the evidence for the crucial role of genetics in common clinical obesity within our obesogenic environment. We focus on the role of heritability in common obesity and provide an overview of both study designs and results for different obesity-related traits.


Heredity Environment Twin study Adoption study Heritability Obesogenic Linkage Association Case–control Genome-wide 


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Genomics of Common Disease, Faculty of MedicineSchool of Public Health, Imperial College London, Hammersmith HospitalLondonUK

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