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Behav Genet. 1997 Sep;27(5):441-5.

A proposed heuristic for communicating heritability estimates to the general public, with obesity as an example.

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  • 1Obesity Research Center, St. Luke's/Roosevelt Hospital, Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, New York, New York, USA.


It is well established that many continuously distributed traits have a heritable component. However, it is often difficult to communicate to the general public the meaning of quantitative estimates of heritability. To address this problem, the present paper introduces a heuristic for communicating heritability to nonscientific audiences. This heuristic involves adopting an extremely simplified model of inheritance and artificially (and somewhat arbitrarily) defining a cutoffs of "low environmental risk" and "affectation status." Using body weight and obesity as an example, we present a table which gives estimates of the proportion of obese persons who are "genetically obese" assuming varying levels of "environmental risk" for obesity and relative body weight scores for defining obesity. The resulting statistic may prove useful for lay audiences in understanding a heritability estimate.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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