The body-mass index of twins who have been reared apart

N Engl J Med. 1990 May 24;322(21):1483-7. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199005243222102.


To assess the relative importance of genetic and environmental effects on the body-mass index (weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters), we studied samples of identical and fraternal twins, reared apart or reared together. The samples consisted of 93 pairs of identical twins reared apart, 154 pairs of identical twins reared together, 218 pairs of fraternal twins reared apart, and 208 pairs of fraternal twins reared together. The intrapair correlation coefficients of the values for body-mass index of identical twins reared apart were 0.70 for men and 0.66 for women. These are the most direct estimates of the relative importance of genetic influences (heritability) on the body-mass index, and they were only slightly lower than those for twins reared together in this and earlier studies. Similar estimates were derived from maximum-likelihood model-fitting analyses--0.74 for men and 0.69 for women. Nonadditive genetic variance made a significant contribution to the estimates of heritability, particularly among men. Of the potential environmental influences, only those unique to the individual and not those shared by family members were important, contributing about 30 percent of the variance. Sharing the same childhood environment did not contribute to the similarity of the body-mass index of twins later in life. We conclude that genetic influences on body-mass index are substantial, whereas the childhood environment has little or no influence. These findings corroborate and extend the results of earlier studies of twins and adoptees.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Environment
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Statistical
  • Sex Factors
  • Twins*
  • Twins, Dizygotic
  • Twins, Monozygotic