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

Eur J Epidemiol. 2012 Apr;27(4):247-53. doi: 10.1007/s10654-012-9678-6. Epub 2012 Mar 18.


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.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Body Composition / genetics*
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Body Weight / genetics*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / genetics
  • Registries
  • Twins / genetics*
  • Young Adult