Identifying critical stages of life and modifiable aspects of environment moderating genetic risks for unhealthy behaviors


Smoking, alcohol consumption, and obesity are the top-three leading causes of preventable disease and death in developed nations. These health behaviors play a very important role in the substantial disparities in health between socioeconomic status (SES) groups. Further, multiple factors (that have a genetic basis) influence both SES and health behavior, and interact with SES in producing health behavior. This suggests an important role for interactions between genes and the environment in shaping health.

Thus far, it has been difficult to study the role of genetics. Studies were hampered by a lack of credible gene-behavior associations and by a lack of large datasets with both genetic data and precise measures of the environment. With the recent and ongoing discovery of genetic variants exhibiting credible and robust associations with smoking, drinking, and obesity, and with the recent collection of genetic data in large longitudinal social-science datasets, there is now a unique opportunity for rapid scientific discovery resulting from the integration of genetics and economics in the area of health behavior.

Building on my prior theoretical and empirical research in health disparities, I will seek to identify critical stages of life and modifiable dimensions of the environment for genetically at risk groups, with the aim of identifiying opportunities to prevent risky health behaviors. To this end, I will evaluate how such gene-by-environment (GxE) interplay evolves over the lifecycle and how it varies by environment. To address environmental causation, I will exploit natural experiments providing plausibly exogenous variation (i.e. unrelated to health behavior and its determinants) in the socioeconomic and policy environment. While such causal analyses are not novel in economics, its application to social-science genetics is.


Project number


Main applicant

Dr. T.J. Galama PhD

Affiliated with

USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research

Team members

Drs. T.J. Galama


01/11/2018 to 31/10/2023