The heritability of body composition

Avivit Brener*, Yarden Waksman, Talya Rosenfeld, Sigal Levy, Itai Peleg, Adi Raviv, Hagar Interator, Yael Lebenthal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Physical growth during childhood and adolescence is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. Heritability, the proportion of phenotypic variance explained by genetic factors, has been demonstrated for stature and weight status. The aim of this study was to explore the heritability of body composition. Methods: A real-life, observational study of the children and adolescents referred to the Endocrine Unit in a tertiary medical center. In January 2018, body composition by means of bioimpedance analysis (BIA) was implemented as part of the standard intake assessment of subjects referred for endocrine consultation. The clinic BIA database was searched for subjects with the term “observation of growth” as the sole reason for referral. BIA of 114 triads of healthy subjects aged 5–18 years and their parents were analyzed. The BIA report included the following data: fat mass, fat percentage, truncal fat percentage and muscle mass. Calculated variables included: appendicular skeletal muscle mass (ASMM = the sum of muscle mass of four limbs), muscle-to-fat ratio [MFR = ASMM (kg)/fat mass (kg)] and sarcopenic index [(SI = ASMM(kg)/height (meter)²]. Data collection from medical files included pubertal stage and home address for socioeconomic position grading. Results: There were sex differences in body composition parameters in both the prepubertal and pubertal subjects. The boys among the prepubertal subjects had a lower fat percentage on average than girls (p = 0.020). Among the adolescents, boys on average had lower fat percentage (p = 0.011), higher sarcopenic index (p = 0.021), and higher muscle-to-fat ratio (p < 0.001), than adolescent girls. Correlation analyses between body composition parameters of all participants revealed significant correlations in the sarcopenic index of prepubertal children and their parents (boys-fathers: r = 0.380, p = 0.050; boys-mothers: r = 0.435, p = 0.026; girls-fathers: r = 0.462, p = 0.012; girls-mothers: r = 0.365, p = 0.050) and adiposity indices (fat percentage, truncal fat percentage and muscle-to-fat ratio) of prepubertal boys and their mothers (r = 0.438, p = 0.025; r = 0.420, p = 0.033, and r = 0.478, p = 0.014, respectively). There were no associations between body composition parameters of adolescents and their parents. Socioeconomic position adversely affected fat percentage in adolescent girls and mothers. Conclusions: Heritable body composition traits were demonstrated in childhood but not in adolescence, suggesting that environmental influence has a more telling effect during teenage years.

Original languageEnglish
Article number225
JournalBMC Pediatrics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Bioimpedance
  • Body composition
  • Children and adolescents
  • Heritability
  • Puberty


Dive into the research topics of 'The heritability of body composition'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this