The pillars of health: influence of multiple lifestyle behaviors on body mass index and depressive symptoms in adult twins

Duncan GE, Avery AR, Tsang S, Watson NF, Williams BD, Turkheimer E.

Background: Guidelines promoting healthy lifestyles are cornerstones of chronic disease prevention and treatment. The purpose of this study is to investigate independent and joint associations of five key health behaviors with health outcomes (body mass index (BMI kg/m2) and depressive symptoms) in adult twins.

Methods: We included 6,048 twin pairs from a community-based registry. Five key health behaviors were: (1) ≥ 8 h of sleep per night, (2) ≥ 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, (3) ≤ 2 h sedentary time per day, (4) ≥ 150 min of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) per week, and (5) no smoking. We analyzed phenotypic associations between behaviors and outcomes; whether phenotypic associations were confounded by additive genetic and shared environmental factors within twin pairs (“quasi-causal” associations); and which behaviors, considered simultaneously, had the largest associations with outcomes.

Results: We found negative phenotypic associations between number of behaviors achieved with BMI and depressive symptoms score (ps < 0.05). Associations remained significant, though attenuated, when controlling for genetic and shared environmental factors, and demographics, for depressive symptoms score but not BMI (p < 0.05). Quantitative variable importance measures derived from regression tree models showed sedentary time and MVPA were the most important variables in partitioning twins with different BMI, and smoking and sedentary time for partitioning twins with different depressive symptoms score.

Conclusions: Achievement of commonly endorsed health behaviors is associated with lower BMI (especially sedentary and MVPA targets) and depressive symptoms score (especially sedentary and smoking targets). This provides further support of health behavior promotion to improve health outcomes.

Duncan GE, Avery AR, Tsang S, Watson NF, Williams BD, Turkheimer E. The pillars of health: influence of multiple lifestyle behaviors on body mass index and depressive symptoms in adult twins. BMC Public Health. 2022 Aug 5;22(1):1487. doi: 10.1186/s12889-022-13901-7. PMID: 35927692; PMCID: PMC9354427.