Is socioeconomic status of the rearing environment causally related to obesity in the offspring?

Kevin R. Fontaine, Henry T. Robertson, Claus Holst, Renee Desmond, Albert J. Stunkard, Thorkild I.A. Sørensen, David B. Allison

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We attempt to elucidate whether there might be a causal connection between the socioeconomic status (SES) of the rearing environment and obesity in the offspring using data from two large-scale adoption studies: (1) The Copenhagen Adoption Study of Obesity (CASO), and (2) The Survey of Holt Adoptees and Their Families (HOLT). In CASO, the SES of both biological and adoptive parents was known, but all children were adopted. In HOLT, only the SES of the rearing parents was known, but the children could be either biological or adopted. After controlling for relevant covariates (e.g., adoptee age at measurement, adoptee age at transfer, adoptee sex) the raw (unstandardized) regression coefficients for adoptive and biological paternal SES on adoptee body mass index (BMI: kg/m 2) in CASO were -.22 and -.23, respectively, both statistically significant (p = 0.01). Controlling for parental BMI (both adoptive and biological) reduced the coefficient for biological paternal SES by 44% (p =. 034) and the coefficient for adoptive paternal SES by 1%. For HOLT, the regression coefficients for rearing parent SES were -.42 and -.25 for biological and adoptive children, respectively. Controlling for the average BMI of the rearing father and mother (i.e., mid-parental BMI) reduced the SES coefficient by 47% in their biological offspring (p≤.0001), and by 12% in their adoptive offspring (p =. 09). Thus, despite the differing structures of the two adoption studies, both suggest that shared genetic diathesis and direct environmental transmission contribute about equally to the association between rearing SES and offspring BMI.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere27692
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number11
StatePublished - 16 Nov 2011
Externally publishedYes


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