Genetic and environmental factors in relative body weight and human adiposity

Behav Genet. 1997 Jul;27(4):325-51. doi: 10.1023/a:1025635913927.


We review the literature on the familial resemblance of body mass index (BMI) and other adiposity measures and find strikingly convergent results for a variety of relationships. Results from twin studies suggest that genetic factors explain 50 to 90% of the variance in BMI. Family studies generally report estimates of parent-offspring and sibling correlations in agreement with heritabilities of 20 to 80%. Data from adoption studies are consistent with genetic factors accounting for 20 to 60% of the variation in BMI. Based on data from more than 25,000 twin pairs and 50,000 biological and adoptive family members, the weighted mean correlations are .74 for MZ twins, .32 for DZ twins, .25 for siblings, .19 for parent-offspring pairs, .06 for adoptive relatives, and .12 for spouses. Advantages and disadvantages of twin, family, and adoption studies are reviewed. Data from the Virginia 30,000, including twins and their parents, siblings, spouses, and children, were analyzed using a structural equation model (Stealth) which estimates additive and dominance genetic variance, cultural transmission, assortative mating, nonparental shared environment, and special twin and MZ twin environmental variance. Genetic factors explained 67% of the variance in males and females, of which half is due to dominance. A small proportion of the genetic variance was attributed to the consequences of assortative mating. The remainder of the variance is accounted for by unique environmental factors, of which 7% is correlated across twins. No evidence was found for a special MZ twin environment, thereby supporting the equal environment assumption. These results are consistent with other studies in suggesting that genetic factors play a significant role in the causes of individual differences in relative body weight and human adiposity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adoption
  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight / genetics*
  • Child
  • Diseases in Twins / genetics*
  • Diseases in Twins / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / genetics*
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Social Environment*
  • Twin Studies as Topic