The environmental roots of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and the epigenetic impacts of globalization.

TitleThe environmental roots of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and the epigenetic impacts of globalization.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsVineis P, Stringhini S, Porta M
JournalEnviron Res
Date Published2014 Mar 1

BACKGROUND: Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are increasing worldwide. We hypothesize that environmental factors (including social adversity, diet, lack of physical activity and pollution) can become "embedded" in the biology of humans. We also hypothesize that the "embedding" partly occurs because of epigenetic changes, i.e., durable changes in gene expression patterns. Our concern is that once such factors have a foundation in human biology, they can affect human health (including NCDs) over a long period of time and across generations.

OBJECTIVES: To analyze how worldwide changes in movements of goods, persons and lifestyles (globalization) may affect the "epigenetic landscape" of populations and through this have an impact on NCDs. We provide examples of such changes and effects by discussing the potential epigenetic impact of socio-economic status, migration, and diet, as well as the impact of environmental factors influencing trends in age at puberty.

DISCUSSION: The study of durable changes in epigenetic patterns has the potential to influence policy and practice; for example, by enabling stratification of populations into those who could particularly benefit from early interventions to prevent NCDs, or by demonstrating mechanisms through which environmental factors influence disease risk, thus providing compelling evidence for policy makers, companies and the civil society at large. The current debate on the '25×25 strategy', a goal of 25% reduction in relative mortality from NCDs by 2025, makes the proposed approach even more timely.

CONCLUSIONS: Epigenetic modifications related to globalization may crucially contribute to explain current and future patterns of NCDs, and thus deserve attention from environmental researchers, public health experts, policy makers, and concerned citizens.

Alternate JournalEnviron. Res.
PubMed ID24593864