Commonly used estimates of the genetic contribution to disease are subject to the same fallacies as bad luck estimates

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The scientific debate following the initial formulation of the “bad luck” hypothesis in cancer development highlighted how measures based on analysis of variance are inappropriately used for risk communication. The notion of “explained” variance is not only used to quantify randomness, but also to quantify genetic and environmental contribution to disease in heritability coefficients. In this paper, we demonstrate why such quantifications are generally as problematic as bad luck estimates. We stress the differences in calculation and interpretation between the heritability coefficient and the population attributable fraction, the estimated fraction of all disease events that would not occur if an intervention could successfully prevent the excess genetic risk. We recommend using the population attributable fraction when communicating results regarding the genetic contribution to disease, as this measure is both more relevant from a public health perspective and easier to understand.


External organisations
  • Skåne University Hospital
  • Karolinska Institutet
  • Stockholm County Council
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology


  • Epidemiology, Etiologic fraction, Genetic studies, Public health
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to) 987–992
JournalEuropean Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Publication categoryResearch

Related projects

Jonas Björk, Anton Nilsson, Ulf Strömberg & Carl Bonander

Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research (Forte)


Project: Other

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