Scientists have found that certain genes may place people at risk for disease (e.g., cancer, Alzheimers), but that having the gene does not in and of itself always cause the disease. Epigenetics is the study of how a gene gets turned on, or is 'expressed'. The expression of a gene is due to some interaction between biology and environment. In other words, a person may have a gene that puts them at risk for a certain type of cancer but the gene stays dormant or asleep until some other "thing" or "series of things" occurs. There is ongoing research into the epigenetics of diet and cancer. In other words, does the diet of a person turn on a cancer gene?
As a researcher, I am interested in how diet (what and how much a person eats) affects health. Because some research suggests that a diet high in calories, sugar and certain types of fat leads to obesity, heart disease and diabetes, I feel that it is appropriate to use law to help us limit our consumption of certain foods or food ingredients. This is a very contentious idea. Americans' believe that food choices are personal (I believe food choices are swayed by industry, the environment, and social norms). Some people also believe that being overweight or having heart disease is an acceptable outcome for the enjoyment food provides. Within that person's value system, the risk of heart disease is not considered high or important.
I wonder if this same global mentality will accompany a finding that too many calories or a diet high in sugar turns on a cancer gene. People still fear cancer. Cancer (though seemingly as treatable as heart disease) is not usually considered an acceptable outcome for food indulgences in anyone's value system.
I expect that laws limiting fast food restaurants, taxing sugar sweetened beverages and mandating interpretive, nutrient disclosures (i.e., traffic light labels) will get more support if researchers find a link between the over consumption of certain foods and cancer.
My desire is to test the effect of such laws or strategies, regardless of why they are implemented. To learn more about my 'new' research interests please click here for my professional website.