Epigenetics: relevance and implications for public health

Annu Rev Public Health. 2014:35:105-22. doi: 10.1146/annurev-publhealth-032013-182513.


Improved understanding of the multilayer regulation of the human genome has led to a greater appreciation of environmental, nutritional, and epigenetic risk factors for human disease. Chromatin remodeling, histone tail modifications, and DNA methylation are dynamic epigenetic changes responsive to external stimuli. Careful interpretation can provide insights for actionable public health through collaboration between population and basic scientists and through integration of multiple data sources. We review key findings in environmental epigenetics both in human population studies and in animal models, and discuss the implications of these results for risk assessment and public health protection. To ultimately succeed in identifying epigenetic mechanisms leading to complex phenotypes and disease, researchers must integrate the various animal models, human clinical approaches, and human population approaches while paying attention to life-stage sensitivity, to generate effective prescriptions for human health evaluation and disease prevention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers
  • Carcinogenesis / metabolism
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Epidemiologic Research Design*
  • Epidemiologic Studies*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / physiology*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Information Systems / organization & administration
  • Nutritional Status
  • Phenotype
  • Precision Medicine
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / epidemiology
  • Public Health*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Trans-Activators


  • Biomarkers
  • CXXC1 protein, human
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Histones
  • Trans-Activators