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Nucleus of fairness: epigenetic ageing, social determinants of health and the imperative for proactive preventive measures
  1. Steven Bell1,2
  1. 1 Precision Breast Cancer Institute, Department of Oncology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  2. 2 Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre, Li Ka Shing Centre, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Steven Bell, Precision Breast Cancer Institute, Department of Oncology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK; scb81{at}

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The study conducted by Clair et al 1 reported in this issue of JECH delves into the intricate relationship between housing circumstances and epigenetic ageing, offering valuable insights into the complex interplay between genetics, environment and health outcomes through the novel perspective offered by DNA methylation data. The study ventures into relatively uncharted territory, seeking to illuminate how the place we call home might influence the fundamental biological processes underlying ageing. Their analysis hinges on the concept of epigenetic ageing, a burgeoning field of research that examines how external factors can imprint themselves on our DNA, potentially accelerating or decelerating the biological clock.

Clair et al tentatively suggest that living in privately rented homes might be linked to an accelerated biological ageing process. This assertion, however, is made cautiously, acknowledging the need for further investigation to establish a definitive causal link. Interestingly, this potential impact of housing circumstances on ageing appears to be more pronounced than the effects of certain other well-established risk factors, such as unemployment or a history of smoking. This empirical insight advances our understanding of how social determinants, such as housing, can influence health at a molecular level. The study’s contributions extend beyond the contemporary, delving into historical housing circumstances to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the potential impact of how housing circumstances across the life course may influence health. Elements such as repeated housing payment arrears and exposure to pollution also appear to be associated with accelerated biological ageing. This underscores the intricate interplay between past experiences …

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  • Contributors SB conceived of and wrote this editorial.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests SB is currently an Associate Editor for the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health and Editorial Board Member at BMC Medicine.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

  • Author note Declaration of generative AI and AI-assisted technologies in the writing process: ChatGPT July 20 Version (GPT3.5) was used during the preparation of this work, specifically to generate a title. After using this tool, the author reviewed and edited the text as needed and takes full responsibility for the content of this editorial.