Does education attenuate the genetic risk of obesity? Evidence from U.K. Twins

Tim Spector, Paul T Dunn, Vikesh Amin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


More education is associated with a lower body mass index (BMI) and likelihood of being obese. Obesity and BMI also have a strong genetic basis. Given these observations, we investigate whether more education can reduce obesity by attenuating the underlying genetic risk of being obese, through gene-environment (GxE) interactions. We estimate associations between (i) education, (ii) a genetic risk score (GRS) and (iii) GxE interactions between education and the GRS through Ordinary least Squares (OLS) and twins fixed-effect regressions using data on female twins from the TwinsUK database. OLS estimates show that there are significant associations of education and genetics. Female twins with a university education are 14.3 percentage points less likely to be obese compared to twins with less than compulsory education, and a 1 standard deviation increase in the GRS increases the likelihood of being obese by 5.2 percentage points. The GxE interactions are statistically insignificant, suggesting that the marginal association of the GRS with obesity does not differ by educational attainment. When controlling for confounding through twins fixed-effects, we find a smaller role of genetics. The association of the GRS with obesity decreases to 0.040. Associations of educational attainment are substantially reduced and insignificant. GxE interactions also remain insignificant. Overall, we find little evidence of any GxE interactions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)200-208
JournalEconomics & Human Biology
Issue numberSeptember 2018
StatePublished - Sep 26 2018


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