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Obes Res. 1993 Jul;1(4):261-70.

Familial aggregation of morbid obesity.

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Cardiovascular Genetics Research Clinic, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, UT 84108, USA.


Recent studies have shown major gene effects for obesity in randomly ascertained families. To investigate the familial aggregation of a specific subset of obesity, which is particularly prone to medical complications, families with morbid obesity were studied. This condition occurs in 1%-2% of the population and is defined as 45.5 kg (100 pounds) or more over ideal weight. First-degree relatives of 221 morbidly obese probands (1560 adults) were identified, and height and weight (current and greatest) were obtained from each family member. Morbid obesity occurred in the family members of the probands 8 times more often than in the general population. Of the morbidly obese probands, 48% had one or more first-degree relatives who were also morbidly obese compared to a 6% population estimate. By the ages of 20-24, 12% of the morbidly obese probands were already 45.5 kg or more overweight, and 45% were 22.7 kg (50 pounds) or more overweight. There was little difference in the prevalence of familial morbid obesity by the gender of the probands: 47% of the male probands and 48% of the female probands had another morbidly obese relative, while 67% and 53% of the early onset (before age 25) male and female probands, respectively, had one or more first-degree relatives who were also morbidly obese. In addition to the extreme degree of familial aggregation, the prevalence of morbid obesity in parent-offspring sets was calculated within the morbidly obese families. Morbidly obese families who have one or two morbidly obese parents have a 2.6 times increased risk (p<0.002) of having one or more morbidly obese adult offspring, compared to families who have neither parent morbidly obese. Evidence for trimodality of the body mass index distribution was found for each gender (p = 0.0006 for male relatives and p = 0.075 for female relatives). The strong familial aggregation of morbid obesity indicates the need for further understanding of the genetic determinants of this extreme clinical disorder and how environmental factors affect the genetic expression of the trait.

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