The genetic and environmental influences on childhood obesity: a systematic review of twin and adoption studies

Int J Obes (Lond). 2010 Jan;34(1):29-40. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2009.177. Epub 2009 Sep 15.


In this systematic review, we aimed to collect together all previous twin and adoption studies on childhood and adolescent obesity up to the age of 18 years. Using several sources, we identified nine twin and five adoption studies; all of these studies had used relative weight as an indicator of obesity. Except the two twin studies from the Korean population, all studies represented Caucasian populations. In a meta-analysis of these twin studies, we found that genetic factors had a strong effect on the variation of body mass index (BMI) at all ages. The common environmental factors showed a substantial effect in mid-childhood, but this effect disappeared at adolescence. Adoption studies supported the role of family environment in childhood obesity as correlations were found between adoptees and adoptive parents; however, correlations were substantially stronger between parents and their biological offspring, further supporting the importance of genetic factors. In the future, more studies implementing genetic and environmental measures into twin models are needed as they allow estimation of the proportion of total genetic variation explained by candidate genes and analyses of gene-environment interactions. More studies of genetic architecture in non-Caucasian populations, of gene-environment interactions, and of body composition and body fat distribution are needed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adoption
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight / genetics*
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Environment*
  • Family
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Obesity / genetics
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Environment
  • Twin Studies as Topic
  • Twins / genetics
  • United States