Twin Research

Articles

Heritability of Adult Body Height: A Comparative Study of Twin Cohorts in Eight Countries

Karri Silventoinena1, Sampo Sammalistoa2, Markus Perolaa3, Dorret I. Boomsmaa4, Belinda K. Cornesa5, Chayna Davisa6, Leo Dunkela7, Marlies de Langea8, Jennifer R. Harrisa9, Jacob V.B. Hjelmborga10, Michelle Lucianoa11, Nicholas G. Martina12, Jakob Mortensena13, Lorenza Nisticòa14, Nancy L. Pedersena15, Axel Skytthea16, Tim D. Spectora17, Maria Antonietta Stazia18, Gonneke Willemsena19 and Jaakko Kaprioa20 c1

a1 Department of Public Health, University of Helsinki, Finland.

a2 National Public Health Institute, Helsinki, Finland.

a3 National Public Health Institute, Helsinki, Finland.

a4 Dept of Biological Psyschology,Vrije University,Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

a5 Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Brisbane, Australia.

a6 Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden.

a7 Dept of Pediatrics, University of Helsinki.

a8 Twin Research Unit, St.Thomas's Hospital, London, UK.

a9 Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Norway.

a10 Institute of Public Health, Epidemiology, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark.

a11 Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Brisbane, Australia.

a12 Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Brisbane, Australia.

a13 Institute of Public Health, Epidemiology, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark.

a14 Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy.

a15 Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden.

a16 Institute of Public Health, Epidemiology, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark.

a17 Twin Research Unit, St.Thomas's Hospital, London, UK.

a18 Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy.

a19 Dept of Biological Psyschology,Vrije University,Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

a20 Department of Public Health, University of Helsinki, Finland. jaakko.kaprio@helsinki.fi

Abstract

Amajor component of variation in body height is due to genetic differences, but environmental factors have a substantial contributory effect. In this study we aimed to analyse whether the genetic architecture of body height varies between affluent western societies. We analysed twin data from eight countries comprising 30,111 complete twin pairs by using the univariate genetic model of the Mx statistical package. Body height and zygosity were self-reported in seven populations and measured directly in one population. We found that there was substantial variation in mean body height between countries; body height was least in Italy (177 cm in men and 163 cm in women) and greatest in the Netherlands (184 cm and 171 cm, respectively). In men there was no corresponding variation in heritability of body height, heritability estimates ranging from 0.87 to 0.93 in populations under an additive genes/unique environment (AE) model. Among women the heritability estimates were generally lower than among men with greater variation between countries, ranging from 0.68 to 0.84 when an additive genes/shared environment/unique environment (ACE) model was used. In four populations where an AE model fit equally well or better, heritability ranged from 0.89 to 0.93. This difference between the sexes was mainly due to the effect of the shared environmental component of variance, which appears to be more important among women than among men in our study populations. Our results indicate that, in general, there are only minor differences in the genetic architecture of height between affluent Caucasian populations, especially among men.

Correspondence:

c1 Address for correspondence: Jaakko Kaprio, M.D., Ph.D., Dept. of Public Health, University of Helsinki, PO Box 41, FIN-00014 Helsinki, Finland.

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