Subscribe to the BioNews newsletter for free

Login
Advanced Search

Search for
BioNews

Like the Progress Educational Trust on Facebook


The Fertility Show


 

DNA testing has 'no impact on lifestyle choices'

21 March 2016

By Ryan Ross

Appeared in BioNews 844

A recent study has suggested that genetic tests to assess the risk of diseases like diabetes and lung cancer do little to motivate people to change their behaviour.

The research, led by the University of Cambridge and published last week in the British Medical Journal, challenged the view that better informed people are willing or able to make lifestyle adjustments.

Researchers analysed 18 published medical studies that assessed the impact of DNA testing for Alzheimer's and Crohn's disease, as well as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and various forms of cancer, on over 6000 participants.

They conclude that the available evidence suggests that communicating risk estimates has 'little or no effect' on health behaviour, commenting: 'Existing evidence does not support expectations that such interventions could play a major role in motivating behaviour change to improve population health.'

Professor Theresa Marteau, Director of the Behaviour and Health Research Unit at Cambridge University and lead investigator of the study, explained: 'Expectations have been high that giving people information about their genetic risk will empower them to change their behaviour – to eat more healthily or to stop smoking, for example – but we have found no evidence that this is the case.'

Genetic testing allows people to assess whether they have a risk of developing certain illnesses. The technique has become more prevalent in recent years, and popularised by celebrities like Angelina Jolie. Some products – such as those provided by 23andMe – are marketed directly to patients. However, the use of genetic testing has proved controversial. Just because a patient carries a particular gene, it does not mean that they will develop the condition associated with it.  

The authors of the BMJ study recognise that genetic testing may be beneficial if used in tandem with other diagnostic tools. One of the study's co-authors, Dr Gareth Hollands, explained: 'DNA testing, alone or in combination with other assessments of disease risk, may help clinicians identify individuals at greatest risk and allow them to target interventions such as screening tests, surgery, and drug treatments.'

The BMJ study also underlines the value of screening large populations, as it may help identify which groups are at risk of which diseases, and for other behavioral interventions to be targeted appropriately.

But, given the expectations now placed on genetic testing in public health, the BMJ study calls for further research to assess the efficacy of genetic testing in altering behaviour. It notes that the language through which the genetic risk is explained may be important in effecting behaviour, but that more research is required.

Professor Marteau also noted that while there is no evidence to support the view that genetic testing motivates people to change their behaviour, there is no evidence to suggest that it might demotivate or discourage them either.

RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE

22 May 2017 - by Jennifer Willows 
Customers of Ancestry's consumer DNA tests may be unaware of what they have signed away, a US lawyer has suggested...
26 September 2016 - by Hannah Somers 
People carrying a gene variant linked to weight gain can benefit from weight-loss programmes just as much as those without it, research from Newcastle University has shown...
01 August 2016 - by Rachel Reeves 
A newly discovered genetic variant in the Samoan population increases obesity risk by 35 percent – the largest effect of any obesity gene...
11 July 2016 - by Sarah Gregory 
Researchers looking at multiple genes have developed risk scores that could identify those most likely to develop Alzheimer's disease in later life...
31 May 2016 - by Amina Yonis 
Researchers in the USA have found that following a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of developing breast cancer among certain women with a strong genetic disposition to the condition...

22 February 2016 - by Helen Robertson 
More than 95 percent of younger women diagnosed with early-onset breast cancer are opting for genetic testing, a study has found...
15 February 2016 - by Kulraj Singh Bhangra 
US start-up company Sure Genomics has launched the first whole-genome testing service available directly to consumers, for a cost of $2500...
14 December 2015 - by Andelka M. Phillips 
There is now a huge range of direct-to-consumer genetic tests on the market, but the public ought to be wary of what exactly they are agreeing to when they sign up for these services...
16 November 2015 - by Lone Hørlyck 
The US Food and Drug Administration has sent warning letters to three gene-testing companies over the marketing and selling of what it claims are direct-to-consumer gene testing products without its approval...
22 October 2015 - by Julianna Photopoulos 
Genetic testing company 23andMe is relaunching its direct-to-consumer genetic tests in the USA, after receiving approval from the US Food and Drug Administration...

HAVE YOUR SAY
Be the first to have your say.

You need to or  to add comments.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions


- click here to enquire about using this story.

Published by the Progress Educational Trust

CROSSING FRONTIERS

Moving the Boundaries of Human Reproduction

Public Conference
London
8 December 2017

Speakers include

Professor Azim Surani

Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge

Sally Cheshire

Professor Guido Pennings

Katherine Littler

Professor Allan Pacey

Dr Sue Avery

Professor Richard Anderson

Dr Elizabeth Garner

Dr Jacques Cohen

Dr Anna Smajdor

Dr Andy Greenfield

Vivienne Parry

Dr Helen O'Neill

Dr César Palacios-González

Philippa Taylor

Fiona Fox

Sarah Norcross


BOOK HERE

Good Fundraising Code

Become a Friend of PET HERE and give the Progress Educational Trust a regular donation