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What are environmental factors? 

Environmental factors are those elements such as where we live, temperature, pollutants, microorganisms, food availability, physical activity, total population density, UV light, and radiation levels. These environmental factors can influence gene expression. Environmental factors can influence gene expression and may cause damage to our DNA resulting in genetic mutations. 

How do environmental factors influence genetic traits? 

External factors such as an individual’s lifestyle can impact the regulation of genetic expression. These factors can ultimately determine which genes are turned on or off. When a gene is turned on, more of that regulatory protein is synthesized. In opposition, when a gene is turned off, less of that protein is synthesized. Ultimately, the presence or absence of these proteins can influence the way we develop and function. Lifestyle and environmental factors such as diet, exercise, stress, drugs, medications, climate, and chemicals can all influence gene regulation. 

What is an example of an environmental factor?

An example of an environmental factor that can affect genetic expression is cigarette smoke. Cigarette smoke activates an inflammatory response in the body, causing oxidative damage. This damage can permanently alter the structure of DNA, which can lead to disease. Individuals who smoke cigarettes have a higher risk of developing chronic respiratory disease compared to those who never smoke.

Which environmental factors encourage us to increase food consumption?

One of the most influential environmental factors affecting food consumption is access to healthy foods. Those who have greater access to fast-food restaurants and convenience stores, but limited access to grocery stores tend to consume higher calorie foods. Individuals who live in these areas, which are referred to as food deserts, tend to also be of lower socioeconomic status. Only having access to high-calorie foods of low nutritional value can increase the risk of obesity and chronic diseases that individuals may be genetically predisposed to. 

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Photo of Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson

Medically reviewed by:

Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson, Ph.D., RD

Kristin is an RDN who also earned her Ph.D. in Nutrition from Arizona State University with an emphasis on insulin resistance, lipid metabolism disorders, and obesity. She completed her post-doctoral fellowship at Mayo Clinic where she focused on nutrition-related proteomic and metabolic research. Her interests include understanding the exact mechanism of action of various genetic variations underlying individual predispositions to nutrition-related health outcomes. Her goal is to help all individuals prevent chronic diseases and achieve long, healthy lives through eating well.

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