The end of the 'Bad seed' Era? Epigenetics' contribution to violence prevention initiatives in public health

Anna Meurer, Center for Global Health Ethics, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA.


Despite numerous initiatives and significant resource investment, violence remains a pervasive threat to public health. The burgeoning field of epigenetics may offer an exciting new possibility for violence prevention efforts by illuminating the mechanisms of gene-environment interactions. In particular, it may improve our ability to design more effective primary interventions, facilitate improved intervention tailoring, and better position communities to be active agents in their well-being. However, without attention to the distinction between awareness, self-efficacy, and agency, it risks encouraging a false sense of individual accountability for violence, a perception that may perpetuate or increase existing inequities. Thus, embracing epigenetic insights in public health raises new opportunities but also new concerns. Ultimately, I argue public health should embrace epigenetics' potential, but only with an equal commitment to state responsibility and systemic justice.