Several different approaches can be used to examine generational and temporal trends in family studies. The measurement of offspring and parents can be made over a short period of time with parents and offspring having quite different ages, or measurements can be made at the same ages but with decades between parent and offspring measures. A third approach, used in the Framingham Heart Study, has repeated examinations across a broad range of age and time, and provides a unique opportunity to compare these approaches. Parents and offspring were matched both on (year of exam) and on age. Heritability estimates for systolic blood pressure, body mass index, height, weight, cholesterol, and glucose were obtained by regressing offspring on midparent values with and without adjustment for age. Higher estimates of heritability were obtained for age-matched than for year-of-exam-matched data for all traits considered. For most traits, estimates of the heritability of the change over time (slope) of the trait were near zero. These results suggest that the optimal design to identify genetic effects in traits with large age-related effects may be to measure parents and offspring at similar ages and not to rely on age-adjustment or longitudinal measures to account for these temporal effects.
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