The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
IP and WA designed the study. RF and KB contributed to the design of the study and supervised the statistical analyses. MB contributed to the design and the conduct of the study. FG performed the statistical analyses. All authors drafted the manuscript.
Overweight/obesity is an important public health burden worldwide, increasing the risk for the development of cardiovascular diseases or the metabolic syndrome. This risk may be reduced by a good aerobic fitness (AF) that can be improved by physical activity but is also influenced by genetic factors. The aim of this study was to test for familial aggregation of AF measured by maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) and to estimate its heritability. Furthermore, an exploratory analysis of the association between overweight/obesity and AF was performed. In contrast to previous studies, all analyses were adjusted for additional environmental and behavioral factors, in particular for objectively measured physical activity (PA) in addition to body mass index (BMI).
79 families (157 parents, 132 children) performed a maximum exercise test (spiroergometry) to assess maximum oxygen uptake. PA was measured by accelerometry. Familial aggregation of AF was determined using a two-step design: AF was adjusted for age, sex and age*sex using linear regression. Afterwards, the residuals were used to determine the intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC) by ANOVA. Heritability and associations were estimated by generalized linear mixed models.
Familial aggregation of AF (ICC = 0.22, p < 0.001) was significant but decreased when adjusted for PA or BMI. Its heritability was estimated as 40 % (adjusted for PA) using the mid-parent-offspring design. Relative to the middle quintile of AF residuals, the odds of being overweight/obese were three- to tenfold reduced in the upper quintile (adjusted for age, sex, age*sex, PA).
AF clustered in families after controlling for PA, BMI and parental smoking. Heritability was stronger for mother-child pairs as compared to father-child pairs after controlling for PA and BMI. Above average AF was negatively associated with overweight/obesity.