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Equity in Public Health: An Epigenetic Perspective

Stapleton G.a · Schröder-Bäck P.a · Townend D.b
Departments of aInternational Health and bHealth, Ethics and Society, Maastricht University, CAPHRI School for Public Health and Primary Care, Maastricht, The Netherlands Public Health Genomics 2013;16:135-144 (DOI:10.1159/000350703)


Evidence emerging from the study of epigenetics and epigenomics challenges notions of health by enhancing understanding of disease etiologies and improving awareness of new health risks. New paradigms arising from epigenetic and epigenomic research present challenging cases through which to debate theories of justice in health because they expand the concept of health and, controversially, place value on what was previously assumed to be ‘healthy' individual variance. Discoveries of the dynamic nature of the epigenome and its variable sensitivity towards change in numerous phenomena add further complexity to the assessment of health inequalities. Such evidence can cast doubt on perceptions of justice in health, which in turn raises questions over the suitability of actions taken in pursuit of equity. This article discusses how recent developments in epigenetics and epigenomics may impact upon assessments of equity in health. A review of literature discussing possible health risks associated with acquired yet heritable epigenetic variance is used to highlight the diversity of possible pathways through which health may be influenced. From this context, the consideration of health risk with respect to epigenetics, it is argued, demands a more inclusive concept of health when used in discussions of inequities.


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