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April 2016

The Differential Susceptibility Hypothesis: Sensitivity to the Environment for Better and for Worse

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Human Ecology, University of California, Davis
JAMA Pediatr. 2016;170(4):321-322. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.4263

It has long been appreciated by those studying diverse aspects of health and human development that some individuals may be more vulnerable to adversity than others. That is, because of some personal attribute(s) that could be genetic, physiologic, and/or behavioral in character, some children and adults are more likely than others to succumb to the negative effects of problematic environmental conditions (eg, poverty, malnutrition, or pathogen exposure). Research on obesity, the focus of the article by Silveira et al1 in this issue of JAMA Pediatrics, certainly raises this issue given, on the one hand, genome-wide association study findings highlighting obesity genes2 and, on the other hand, research calling attention to the obesogenic consequences of growing up in a community or society in which fat intake is especially high.3 Collectively, such work raises the prospect that, in a gene-environment interaction, the adverse effect of exposure to such environmental conditions will be especially, if not exclusively, evident among those individuals carrying more rather than fewer obesity genes.

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