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Int J Obes (Lond). 2012 Jul;36(7):931-7. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2011.258. Epub 2012 Jan 17.

A twin study of self-regulatory eating in early childhood: estimates of genetic and environmental influence, and measurement considerations.

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  • 1Department of Nutrition, Gillings School of Global Pubic Health, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7461, USA.



Children differ greatly in their ability to self-regulate food intake for reasons that are poorly understood. This laboratory-based twin study tested the genetic and environmental contributions to self-regulatory eating and body fat in early childhood.


A total of 69 4-7 year-old same-sex twin pairs, including 40 monozygotic and 29 dizygotic pairs, were studied. Self-regulatory eating was operationalized as the percentage compensation index (COMPX%), assessed by a 'preload' challenge in which lunch intake was measured following a low- (3 kcal) or high-calorie (159 kcal) drink. Body fat indexes also were measured. The familial association for COMPX% was estimated by an intraclass correlation, and biometric analyses estimated heritability.


Children ate more at lunch following the low- compared with high-energy preload (P<0.001), although variability in COMPX% was considerable. Compensation was significantly poorer among African American and Hispanic compared with European American children, and among girls compared with boys. There was a familial association for self-regulatory eating (ρ = 0.23, P = 0.03) but no significant genetic component. In all, 22% of the variance in COMPX% was due to shared environmental 'household' factors, with the remaining variance attributable to child-specific 'unique' or 'random' environments. Poorer self-regulatory eating was associated with greater percent body fat (r = -0.21, P = 0.04).


Self-regulatory eating was influenced by environmental factors, especially those differing among siblings. The absence of a significant genetic effect may reflect the age of the sample or could be artifactual due to measurement issues that need to be considered in future studies.

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