Heritability of children's dietary intakes: A population-based twin study in China

Ji Li, Huijuan Liu, Terri H. Beaty, Hua Chen, Benjamin Caballero, Youfa Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Despite evidence for some genetic control of dietary intake in adults, there is little evidence of how genetic factors influence children's dietary patterns. Objective: To estimate heritability of dietary intake in twin children from China and test if genetic effects on dietary intakes vary by the children's socio-economic status (SES). Methods: A sample of 622 twins (162 monozygotic and 149 dizygotic pairs; 298 boys and 324 girls aged 7-15 years) was recruited in South China. Dietary intakes were assessed using a validated 145-item semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire. Pooled and sex-specific dietary patterns were identified using factor analysis. Heritability was estimated using structural equation models. Results: Heritable components differed by gender and for nutrients and food groups; and estimated heritability of dietary patterns was generally greater in girls than boys. In boys, estimated heritabilities ranged from 18.8% (zinc) to 58.4% (fat) for nutrients; and for food group, 1.1% (Western fast foods) to 65.8% (soft drinks). In girls, these estimates ranged from 5.1% (total energy) to 38.7% (percentage of energy from fat) for nutrients, and 12.6% (eggs) to 94.6% (Western fast foods) for food groups. Factor analysis identified five food patterns: vegetables and fruits, fried and fast foods, beverages, snacks and meats. Maternal education and family income were positively associated with higher heritabilities for intake of meat, fried, and fast food. Conclusions: Genetic influence on dietary intakes differed by gender, nutrients, food groups, and dietary patterns among Chinese twins. Parental SES characteristics modified the estimated genetic influence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)472-484
Number of pages13
JournalTwin Research and Human Genetics
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016


  • China
  • children
  • dietary intake
  • heritability
  • twins

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Genetics(clinical)


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