Epigenetic transgenerational inheritance: Should obesity-prevention policies be reconsidered?
Synesis: A Journal of Science, Technology, Ethics, and Policy 2011; 2:G18-26
Studies have shown that the nutrition of one generation can alter the epigenetics of DNA in subsequent generations. The increase in the obesity epidemic, especially in the US requires significant health care-related expenditures and negatively impacts the quality of life for many Americans. Obesity is influenced by genetic and immediate environmental factors, and also by epigenetic mechanisms that alter the expression of genes involved in various metabolic functions. This type of imprinting occurs in utero and early postnatal life, and is affected by parental diet and environment. Therefore, further complexity is added to the already complicated etiology of obesity, indicating the intricate individual and multi-generational variables that contribute to health, and the need to revise paradigms of obesity prevention and treatment. In addition, transgenerational inheritance and the acquisition of epigenetic traits are new variables that should be considered by health industry stakeholders when analyzing and projecting the economic attributes of health care. Based on the most current understanding of epigenetics, health policy makers should ensure that prevention programs would include a long-term component addressing transgenerational inheritance and its role in the expansion of obesity.
Key words: epigenetics, transgenerational inheritance, obesity, prevention, policy, healthcare.