Unemployment shocks from the COVID-19 pandemic have reignited concerns over the long-term effects of job loss on population health. Past research has highlighted the corrosive effects of unemployment on health and health behaviors. This study examines whether the effects of job loss on changes in body mass index (BMI) are moderated by genetic predisposition using data from the U.S. Health and Retirement Study (HRS). To improve detection of gene-by-environment (G × E) interplay, we interacted layoffs from business closures—a plausibly exogenous environmental exposure—with whole-genome polygenic scores (PGSs) that capture genetic contributions to both the population mean (mPGS) and variance (vPGS) of BMI. Results show evidence of genetic moderation using a vPGS (as opposed to an mPGS) and indicate genome-wide summary measures of phenotypic plasticity may further our understanding of how environmental stimuli modify the distribution of complex traits in a population.
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