Integrating Epigenetics into the Social Models of Health Disparities

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Did you know that the Great Depression—the worst economic downturn in US history—impacted how fast individuals aged biologically decades later according to their epigenetic aging profiles?!

Yep… you read that right.

Results show that faster epigenetic aging later in life is associated with worse economic conditions, specifically, during the prenatal period, suggesting it may be a sensitive window for the development of later-life disparities in aging. As a result, early-life investments may help postpone age-related morbidity and mortality.

In this week’s Everything Epigenetics podcast, Dr. Lauren Schmitz speaks with me about just that. We take a deep dive into several of her studies which focuses on using genetic and epigenetic measures alongside data on the social environment from population-based longitudinal studies and randomized control trials.

Lauren and I also discuss the methodology she uses for uncovering causal effects from observational data, with the ultimate goal of identifying policy targets that enhance quality of life and extend healthspan.

We also chat about her study results that support DNA methylation-based epigenetic aging as a signature of educational inequalities in life expectancy emphasizing the need for policies to address the unequal social distribution of these World Health Organization (WHO) risk factors, as well as, social disadvantages which may contribute additively to faster biological aging.

I’m extremely excited and passionate about Lauren’s work myself, as it suggests that epigenetic aging measures may contain additional valuable information that could further our understanding of the causes of social disparities in aging and health span.

Lauren is now actively working on assessing measures of biological age in a low-income context, specifically “The Malawi Longitudinal Study of Families and Health”.

In this podcast you’ll learn about:

– Lauren’s atypical, windy road into science
– The Health and Retirement study
– Maternal-fetal epigenetic programming
– Why it’s important to look at early-life exposures to adverse events
– How we can look at early-life exposures to adverse events through the lens of Epigenetics
– In utero exposure to the Great Depression being reflected in late-life epigenetic aging signatures
– How early-life investments may help postpone age-related morbidity and mortality and extend healthy life span
– Lauren’s study “The Socioeconomic Gradient in Epigenetic Ageing Clocks: Evidence from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis and the Health and Retirement Study”
– Another one of Lauren’s study titled: “The Role of Epigenetic Clocks in Explaining Educational Inequalities in Mortality: A Multicohort Study and Meta-analysis”
– Why is it important to conduct research on the connection between epigenetic pathways of and the socioeconomic gradient and educational inequalities
– Epigenetic ecosystems
– Applications of Lauren’s work in the real world

Where to find Dr. Lauren Schmitz:
Website –
Twitter –

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