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We studied 3925 individuals in 961 families to determine the mode of inheritance of overweight. As an index of overweight, we examined body mass index. Our analyses indicate that the most likely genetic model for susceptibility to overweight included moderate polygenic inheritance (34% of variance resulting from many genes with small effects) and common (21% frequency) recessively expressed major genes (a few genes with large effects on the individuals who possess them). Standard statistical criteria for accepting both polygenic and major gene inheritance were met, including tests of Mendelian transmission. These results suggest that recessive major gene inheritance of overweight may be common and that homozygosity for overweight susceptibility alleles often results in overweight. Clinical, biologic, and empirical observations all suggest genetic heterogeneity, that is, more than one predisposing gene.