For Immediate Release

EMBARGOED: Genetics and social science explored in American Journal of Public Health supplement

EMBARGOED UNTIL August 8, 2013, 4 p.m. (EDT)

CONTACT: For copies of articles or full table of contacts of this issue’s released studies, all Kim Short, 202-777-2511, or email her.

The American Journal of Public Health, for the first time, will explore the link between social science and genetics in its October supplemental issue, embargoed until Aug. 8. Through new research, editorials and commentaries, the issue highlights the impact of investigating this field in public health.

“This research direction has the promise of increasing our understanding of both why certain environments affect some people but not others and the functioning of specific genes in determining important health phenotypes,” explain Jason M. Fletcher, PhD and Dalton Conley, PhD, authors of one of the issue’s analytic essays about gene-environment interaction research.

Topics covered in the issue range from behavioral and social risks to research design to social environments and genetics. Specifically, papers address a social science and genetics approach to understanding adolescent development, drug use, mental health, sex and gender and many other topics.

Highlights from this American Journal of Public Health issue include:

·         Chromosome component in children impacted by prenatal smoke exposure

·         Twins examined to investigate role of genetics in link between socio-economic status and depression

Chromosome component in children impacted by prenatal smoke exposure
A new study from the American Journal of Public Health finds that prenatal exposure to cigarette smoke can impact parts of chromosomes in children. Researchers investigated telomere length, a repetitive DNA sequence located at the ends of chromosomes that stabilizes the chromosome. Telomeres are a part of chromosomes that have been identified as a biomarker of cellular aging. After reviewing results from more than 100 New Orleans children aged 4 to 14, researchers found that telomere length was shorter among children who were exposed to smoke during pregnancy. Short telomere length has been associated with negative health outcomes.

“Stress exposure, both environmental and psychosocial, during prenatal life may result in biological changes that alter developmental trajectories and may alter lifelong health trajectories. Identifying the earliest developmental time points for prevention and intervention is challenging but critical if we expect to improve health outcomes,” the study’s authors conclude.

[“Early Hits and Long-Term Consequences: Tracking the Lasting Impact of Prenatal Smoke Exposure on Telomere Length in Children.” Contact: Katherine P. Theall, PhD, Department of Global Community Health and Behavioral Sciences, Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, New Orleans, La.]

Twins examined to investigate role of genetics in link between socio-economic status and depression
A new study from the American Journal of Public Health used a large population-based sample of twins to examine why incidents of major depression are more common among those with lower socio-economic status. The study tested three potential hypotheses to explain the relationship: (1) social causation which predicts that  lower socio-economic level leads to stress and adversity, which in turn increases risk of major depression; (2) social drift which predicts that those with major depression are less likely to transition out of, or more likely to transition into, lower socio-economic status; and (3) common cause which predicts that some shared risk factor, either genetic or environmental, could increase risk for both major depression and lower socio-economic status. Findings aligned with the social causation hypothesis, even after accounting for genetic influence. There was also modest support for an interaction between genetic propensity for depression and the social environment, such that the relationship between low socioeconomic status and development of depression was stronger for those with higher genetic risk. 

“As we illustrated, twin samples offered a means to examine the joint action and interaction between genetic liability and the social position,” the study’s authors concluded.

[“Integrating Social Science and Behavioral Genetics: Testing the Origin of Socioeconomic Disparities in Depression Using a Genetically Informed Design.” Briana Mezuk, PhD, Department of Family Medicine and Population Health, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Va.]

External funding support for this supplement was provided by the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The American Journal of Public Health ® is the monthly journal of the American Public Health Association, the oldest and most diverse organization of public health professionals in the world. APHA is a leading publisher of books and periodicals promoting sound scientific standards, action programs and public policy to enhance health.

Complimentary online access to the Journal is available to credentialed members of the media. Address inquiries to Kimberly Short at APHA, 202-777-2511, or via email. A single print issue of the Journal is available for $35 from the Journal’s Subscriptions department. If you are not a member of the press, a member of APHA or a subscriber, online single issue access is $30 and online single article access is $22. For direct customer service, call 202-777-2516, or email us.

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