BACKGROUND: Both genetic and environmental factors are known to affect body mass index (BMI), but detailed understanding of how their effects differ during childhood and adolescence is lacking.
OBJECTIVES: We analyzed the genetic and environmental contributions to BMI variation from infancy to early adulthood and the ways they differ by sex and geographic regions representing high (North America and Australia), moderate (Europe), and low levels (East Asia) of obesogenic environments.
DESIGN: Data were available for 87,782 complete twin pairs from 0.5 to 19.5 y of age from 45 cohorts. Analyses were based on 383,092 BMI measurements. Variation in BMI was decomposed into genetic and environmental components through genetic structural equation modeling.
RESULTS: The variance of BMI increased from 5 y of age along with increasing mean BMI. The proportion of BMI variation explained by additive genetic factors was lowest at 4 y of age in boys (a(2) = 0.42) and girls (a(2) = 0.41) and then generally increased to 0.75 in both sexes at 19 y of age. This was because of a stronger influence of environmental factors shared by co-twins in midchildhood. After 15 y of age, the effect of shared environment was not observed. The sex-specific expression of genetic factors was seen in infancy but was most prominent at 13 y of age and older. The variance of BMI was highest in North America and Australia and lowest in East Asia, but the relative proportion of genetic variation to total variation remained roughly similar across different regions.
CONCLUSIONS: Environmental factors shared by co-twins affect BMI in childhood, but little evidence for their contribution was found in late adolescence. Our results suggest that genetic factors play a major role in the variation of BMI in adolescence among populations of different ethnicities exposed to different environmental factors related to obesity.
- international comparisons