"Under the Skin'' and into the Gut: Social Epidemiology of the Microbiome

Jennifer Beam Dowd, Audrey Renson

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Purpose of the Review:
As the science of the microbiome advances, social epidemiologists can contribute to understanding how the broader social environment shapes the microbiome over the life course. This review summarizes current research and describes potential mechanisms of the social epidemiology of the microbiome.
Recent findings:
Most existing literature linking the social environment and the microbiome comes from animal models, focused on the impact of social interactions and psychosocial stress. Suggestive evidence of the importance of early life exposures, health behaviors, and the built environment also point to the importance of the social environment for the microbiome in humans.
Social epidemiology as a field is well poised to contribute expertise in theory and measurement of the broader social environment to this new area, and to consider both the upstream and downstream mechanisms by which this environment gets “under the skin” and “into the gut.” As population-level microbiome data becomes increasingly available, we encourage investigation of the multi-level determinants of the microbiome and how the microbiome may link the social environment and health.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)432–441
JournalCurrent Epidemiology Reports
Early online date20 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sept 2018


  • microbiome
  • socioeconomic factors
  • Health disparities
  • psychosocial stress
  • social epidemiology
  • population health
  • Built environment
  • social relationships
  • socioeconomic status


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