Study IDs influence of gender in gene-environment interactions and health

I’ve often marveled at the complexity of the human body, mine specifically, and how it can be so challenging to ID the root of aches, pains and ailments. A new study by Indiana University medical sociologist Brea Perry reinforces the idea of complexity by showing that gender can interact with individuals’ genes and environments to produce very different health outcomes.

Brea Perry

Brea Perry

Her study, discussed on Monday during the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting, discussed how men and women struggling with substance abuse reacted differently when enveloped in close, supportive social environments if they had a genetic sensitivity to stressful situations. For men, the environment helped keep them sober. Not so, for the women.

From our news release:

Research indicates that social and biological factors interact in very complex ways to shape health and well-being, and gender may complicate this picture even further. However, the potential impact of this kind of research on our understanding of how and why certain groups are more or less susceptible to physical and mental health problems is substantial.

“It is quite likely that any heritable health condition that is influenced by social factors, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and depression, might exhibit gender-specific gene-environment interactions,” Perry said.

The news release discusses the findings in more detail and also discusses three other IU studies presented at the ASA meeting. One of the studies, discussed in Salon, found that “how ‘in love’ a romantic couple appears to be is interpreted differently based on the couple’s sexual orientation, affecting what formal and informal rights people think that couple deserves.”

Another study discusses the phenomenon of white flight among suburbs, effectively creating “ethnoburbs” that can lead to increased racial segregation in middle-class housing areas. The last study looks at the working conditions of temporary workers from Mexico and determines they are no better off than their undocumented peers.

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