Differential models of twin correlations in skew for body-mass index (BMI)

Tsang S, Duncan GE, Dinescu D, Turkheimer E.


Body Mass Index (BMI), like most human phenotypes, is substantially heritable. However, BMI is not normally distributed; the skew appears to be structural, and increases as a function of age. Moreover, twin correlations for BMI commonly violate the assumptions of the most common variety of the classical twin model, with the MZ twin correlation greater than twice the DZ correlation. This study aimed to decompose twin correlations for BMI using more general skew-t distributions.


Same sex MZ and DZ twin pairs (N = 7,086) from the community-based Washington State Twin Registry were included. We used latent profile analysis (LPA) to decompose twin correlations for BMI into multiple mixture distributions. LPA was performed using the default normal mixture distribution and the skew-t mixture distribution. Similar analyses were performed for height as a comparison. Our analyses are then replicated in an independent dataset.


A two-class solution under the skew-t mixture distribution fits the BMI distribution for both genders. The first class consists of a relatively normally distributed, highly heritable BMI with a mean in the normal range. The second class is a positively skewed BMI in the overweight and obese range, with lower twin correlations. In contrast, height is normally distributed, highly heritable, and is well-fit by a single latent class. Results in the replication dataset were highly similar.


Our findings suggest that two distinct processes underlie the skew of the BMI distribution. The contrast between height and weight is in accord with subjective psychological experience: both are under obvious genetic influence, but BMI is also subject to behavioral control, whereas height is not.

Differential models of twin correlations in skew for body-mass index (BMI). PLoS One. 2018 Mar 28;13(3):e0194968. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0194968. eCollection 2018.