The Social Environment, Genetics, and Obesity: Evaluation of Diathesis-Stress and Differential Susceptibility Frameworks
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The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) dataset was used to explore how newly-available genetic information can aid social scientists in conducting studies concerned with social outcomes. A key goal of this study is to evaluate two prominent theoretical frameworks in the area of gene-by-environment (GxE) interaction: diathesis-stress and differential susceptibility. The diathesis-stress model has informed nearly all behavioral gene-by-environment studies and is the prevailing theoretical orientation among GxE scholars. Within the last decade, the differential susceptibility framework has been advanced as a viable alternative. Using genetic data collected during Wave IV of the Add Health study, the current study explores how the MAOA and 5-HTTLPR gene alleles interact with known predictors of obesity to compare and contrast the different frameworks. Results reveal that MAOA and 5-HTT do not have the same effect on obesity, especially when socioeconomic status and gender are considered. Results also support both differential susceptibility and diathesis-stress frameworks. Individuals with the low activity 5-HTT allele had higher rates of obesity across all incomes. Individuals with the low activity MAOA allele had higher rates of obesity at low incomes, but lower rates of obesity at higher incomes. These relationships are additionally nuanced by gender. The 5-HTT finding is only significant for females and MAOA is only significant for males. The implications for future gene-environment studies that may wish to use MAOA and 5-HTT alleles in conjunction are discussed.