Body mass index (BMI) has a strong genetic basis, with a heritability around 0.75, but is also influenced by numerous behavioral and environmental factors. Aspects of the built environment (e.g., environmental walkability) are hypothesized to influence obesity by directly affecting BMI, by facilitating or inhibiting behaviors such as physical activity that are related to BMI, or by suppressing genetic tendencies toward higher BMI. The present study investigated relative influences of physical activity and walkability on variance in BMI using 5079 same-sex adult twin pairs (70 % monozygotic, 65 % female). High activity and walkability levels independently suppressed genetic variance in BMI. Estimating their effects simultaneously, however, suggested that the walkability effect was mediated by activity. The suppressive effect of activity on variance in BMI was present even with a tendency for low-BMI individuals to select into environments that require higher activity levels. Overall, our results point to community- or macro-level interventions that facilitate individual-level behaviors as a plausible approach to addressing the obesity epidemic among US adults.
Behavioral and Environmental Modification of the Genetic Influence on Body Mass Index: A Twin Study. Behav Genet. 2015 Jul;45(4):409-26.