Socioeconomic modifiers of genetic and environmental influences on body mass index in adult twins.

Dinescu D, Horn EE, Duncan G, Turkheimer E

OBJECTIVE:

Individual measures of socioeconomic status (SES) suppress genetic variance in body mass index (BMI). Our objective was to examine the influence of both individual-level (i.e., educational attainment, household income) and macrolevel (i.e., neighborhood socioeconomic advantage) SES indicators on genetic contributions to BMI.

METHOD:

The study used education level data from 4,162 monozygotic (MZ) and 1,900 dizygotic (DZ) same-sex twin pairs (64% female), income level data from 3,498 MZ and 1,534 DZ pairs (65% female), and neighborhood-level socioeconomic deprivation data from 2,327 MZ and 948 DZ pairs (65% female). Covariates included age (M = 40.4 ┬▒ 17.5 years), sex, and ethnicity. The cotwin control model was used to evaluate the mechanisms through which SES influences BMI (e.g., through genetic vs. environmental pathways), and a gene-by-environment interaction model was used to test whether residual variance in BMI, after controlling for the main effects of SES, was moderated by socioeconomic measures.

RESULTS:

SES significantly predicted BMI. The association was noncausal, however, and instead was driven primarily through a common underlying genetic background that tended to grow less influential as SES increased. After controlling for the main effect of SES, both genetic and nonshared environmental variance decreased with increasing SES.

CONCLUSIONS:

The impact of individual and macrolevel SES on BMI extends beyond its main effects. The influence of genes on BMI is moderated by individual and macrolevel measures of SES, such that when SES is higher, genetic factors become less influential.

Socioeconomic modifiers of genetic and environmental influences on body mass index in adult twins. Health Psychol. 2016 Feb;35(2):157-66.