A comparison of twin birthweight data from Australia, the Netherlands, the United States, Japan and South Korea: are genetic and environmental variations in birthweight similar in Caucasians and East Asians?

Y.M. Hur, M. Luciano, N.G. Martin, D.I. Boomsma, W.G. Iacono, M. McHue, J.S. Shin, J.K. Jun, S. Ooki, C.E.M. van Beijsterveldt, J. Han

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Birthweight has implications for physical and mental health in later life. Using data from Caucasian twins collected in Australia, the Netherlands and the United States, and from East Asian twins collected in Japan and South Korea, we compared the total phenotypic, genetic and environmental variances of birthweight between Caucasians and East Asians. Model-fitting analyses yielded four major findings. First, for both males and females, the total phenotypic variances of birthweight were about 45% larger in Caucasians than in East Asians. The larger phenotypic variances were mainly attributable to a greater shared environmental variance of birthweight in Caucasians (ranging from 62% to 67% of variance) than Asians (48% to 53%). Second, the genetic variance of birthweight was equal in Caucasians and East Asians for both males and females, explaining a maximum of 17% of variance. Third, small variations in total phenotypic variances of birthweight within Caucasians and within East Asians were mainly due to differences in nonshared environmental variances. We speculate that maternal effects (both genetic and environmental) explain the large shared environmental variance in birthweight and may account for the differences in phenotypic variance in birthweight between Caucasians and East Asians. Recent molecular findings and specific environmental factors that are subsumed by maternal effects are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)638-648
JournalTwin Research and Human Genetics
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2005


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