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Hum Hered. 2013;75(2-4):204-12. doi: 10.1159/000352007. Epub 2013 Sep 27.

Propagation of obesity across generations: the roles of differential realized fertility and assortative mating by body mass index.

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Office of Energetics, School of Public Health, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Ala., USA.



To quantify the extent to which the increase in obesity observed across recent generations of the American population is associated with the individual or combined effects of assortative mating (AM) for body mass index (BMI) and differential realized fertility by BMI.


A Monte Carlo framework is formed and informed using data collected from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY). The model has 2 portions: one that generates childbirth events on an annual basis and another that produces a BMI for each child. Once the model is informed using the data, a reference distribution of offspring BMIs is simulated. We quantify the effects of our factors of interest by removing them from the model and comparing the resulting offspring BMI distributions with that of the baseline scenario.


An association between maternal BMI and number of offspring is evidenced in the NLSY data as well as the presence of AM. These 2 factors combined are associated with an increased mean BMI (+0.067, 95% CI: 0.056; 0.078), an increased BMI variance (+0.578, 95% CI: 0.418; 0.736) and an increased prevalence of obesity (RR 1.032, 95% CI: 1.023; 1.041) and BMIs >40 (RR 1.083, 95% CI: 1.053; 1.118) among offspring.


Our investigation suggests that both differential realized fertility and AM by BMI appear to play a role in the increasing prevalence of obesity in America.

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