Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Body mass index and subjective well-being in young adults: a twin population study

Milla S Linna1*, Jaakko Kaprio123, Anu Raevuori14, Elina Sihvola15, Anna Keski-Rahkonen1 and Aila Rissanen5

Author Affiliations

1 Hjelt Institute, Department of Public Health, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

2 Institute for Molecular Medicine, Helsinki, Finland

3 Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, National Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, Finland

4 Department of Adolescent Psychiatry, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Helsinki, Finland

5 Department of Psychiatry, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Helsinki, Finland

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:231  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-231

Published: 16 March 2013



Body mass index (BMI) is associated with subjective well-being. Higher BMI is believed to be related with lower well-being. However, the association may not be linear. Therefore, we investigated whether a nonlinear (U-shaped) trend would better describe this relationship, and whether eating disorders might account for the association in young adults.


FinnTwin16 study evaluated multiple measures of subjective well-being, including life satisfaction, General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-20), satisfaction with leisure time, work, and family relationships, and satisfaction with sex life in young adulthood in the 1975–79 birth cohorts of Finnish twins (n=5240). We studied the relationship between indicators of subjective well-being and BMI both in full birth cohorts and in subgroups stratified by lifetime DSM-IV eating disorders.


We found an inverse U-shaped relationship between all indicators of subjective well-being and BMI in men. There was no overall association between BMI and subjective well-being in women. However, there was an inverse U-shaped relationship between BMI and indicators of subjective well-being in women with a lifetime eating disorder and their healthy female co-twins. Subjective well-being was optimal in the overweight category.


Both underweight and obesity are associated with impaired subjective well-being in young men. The BMI reflecting optimal subjective well-being of young men may be higher than currently recognized. Categorization of body weight in terms of BMI may need to be reassessed in young men. BMI and subjective well-being are related in women with a lifetime eating disorder, but not in the general population of young women.

Body mass index; Subjective well-being; Life satisfaction; GHQ-20; Eating disorders; Twin study