CU Population Center

Institute of Behavioral Science

Behavior-driven obesity especially bad for health

DNA and obesity

Obesity, overall health, and mortality are closely intertwined and CUPC researchers are making important contributions in understanding the genetic dimensions of these connections. Recent findings suggest that how one becomes obese matters for later health problems.

The CUPC research team used genome-wide data from the 1992–2016 Health and Retirement Study (n = 12,090) to characterize obesity as genetically or socially-behaviorally oriented. Obesity is considered social-behavior for those individuals with low genetic propensity toward obesity but for whom weight is more a product of caloric intake, exercise, sleep patterns, and general health lifestyles. They find that social-behavioral obesity has a stronger association with later life cardiovascular disease as compared to genetically-influenced obesity.

The conceptual connections between genetically-determined obesity and health outcomes

These findings have important implications for public health policy. Efforts to reduce the social-behavioral factors driving obesity could have “profound implications for overall and health life expectancies” representing “low-hanging fruit in improving the health of Americans.”

The research team includes Trent Davidson, Justin Vinneau-Palarino, and Josh A. Goode (all CUPC student affiliates) and Jason Boardman (CUPC faculty).


Davidson, T., Vinneau-Palarino, J., Goode, J. A., & Boardman, J. D. (2021). Utilizing genome wide data to highlight the social behavioral pathways to health: The case of obesity and cardiovascular health among older adults. Social Science & Medicine, 273, 113766.

Vinneau, Justin, Brooke M. Huibregtse, Thomas M. Laidley, Joshua A. Goode, and Jason D Boardman. 2021. Mortality and Obesity among Older Adults: The Role of Polygenic Risk. Journals of Gerontology: Social Sciences 76(2):330-342.