Amajor component of variation in body height is due to genetic differences, but environmental factors have a substantial contributory effect. In this study we aimed to analyse whether the genetic architecture of body height varies between affluent western societies. We analysed twin data from eight countries comprising 30,111 complete twin pairs by using the univariate genetic model of the Mx statistical package. Body height and zygosity were self-reported in seven populations and measured directly in one population. We found that there was substantial variation in mean body height between countries; body height was least in Italy (177 cm in men and 163 cm in women) and greatest in the Netherlands (184 cm and 171 cm, respectively). In men there was no corresponding variation in heritability of body height, heritability estimates ranging from 0.87 to 0.93 in populations under an additive genes/unique environment (AE) model. Among women the heritability estimates were generally lower than among men with greater variation between countries, ranging from 0.68 to 0.84 when an additive genes/shared environment/unique environment (ACE) model was used. In four populations where an AE model fit equally well or better, heritability ranged from 0.89 to 0.93. This difference between the sexes was mainly due to the effect of the shared environmental component of variance, which appears to be more important among women than among men in our study populations. Our results indicate that, in general, there are only minor differences in the genetic architecture of height between affluent Caucasian populations, especially among men.
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