Annals of Human Biology vol:30 issue:4 pages:402-18
BACKGROUND: Several studies with different designs have attempted to estimate the heritability of somatotype components. However they often ignore the covariation between the three components as well as possible sex and age effects. Shared environmental factors are not always controlled for. AIM: This study explores the pattern of genetic and environmental determination of the variation in Heath-Carter somatotype components from early adolescence into young adulthood. SUBJECTS AND METHODS: Data from the Leuven Longitudinal Twin Study, a longitudinal sample of Belgian same-aged twins followed from 10 to 18 years (n = 105 pairs, equally divided over five zygosity groups), is entered into a multivariate path analysis. Thus the covariation between the somatotype components is taken into account, gender heterogeneity can be tested, common environmental influences can be distinguished from genetic effects and age effects are controlled for. RESULTS: Heritability estimates from 10 to 18 years range from 0.21 to 0.88, 0.46 to 0.76 and 0.16 to 0.73 for endomorphy, mesomorphy and ectomorphy in boys. In girls, heritability estimates range from 0.76 to 0.89, 0.36 to 0.57 and 0.57 to 0.76 for the respective somatotype components. Sex differences are significant from 14 years onwards. More than half of the variance in all somatotype components for both sexes at all time points is explained by factors the three components have in common. CONCLUSIONS: The finding of substantial genetic influence on the variability of somatotype components is further supported. The need to consider somatotype as a whole is stressed as well as the need for sex- and perhaps age-specific analyses. Further multivariate analyses are needed to confirm the present findings.