DNA testingDirect-to-consumer (DTC) genetic test results could begin to encourage individuals to move closer to maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regime.

A study, carried out earlier this year by Members of the Impact of Personal Genomics (PGen) Study Group collected survey results from more than 1,000 individuals who got DTC genetic testing from 23andMe or Pathway Genomics, comparing the participants’ self-reported exercise frequency and their fruit and vegetable servings per day before receiving results to their answers at two weeks after receiving results and again at six months after tests were returned.

As a result, the team did not see clear ties between specific genetic test results and diet or exercise changes. However, the data did reveal that suggested individuals with poorer self-reported health at the start of the study tended to become more active and increase the number of fruits and vegetables they consumed each day.

23andMe continues to make progress in its efforts to convince the FDA to allow health-related genetic tests to be marketed directly to its customers in the US. This is a complete shift from the 2013 restrictions that relegated the firm to reporting ancestry and other non-health related information to its customers stateside.

Robert Green Genomes 2 People

Dr Robert Green, Founder of Genomes 2 People

According to Robert Green, professor of medicine and director of Genomes2People Research Program, the FDA’s recent actions speak for their attitudes. He told Front Line Genomics: “As we’ve seen, they have found a way to broaden their approval, which shows a level of awareness. Seeing the accommodations DTC genetic testing companies are making in collaboration with the FDA, it appears that the FDA is indeed opening up to the notion that people can receive personal genetic information – and I think that’s a good thing. We and others have done research over the years to demonstrate that you can actually disclose this kind of information to people and for the most part they are not overly distressed by it, and for the most part, they don’t deeply misunderstand it or act on it in an inappropriate way.”

Results from previous studies reflected that individuals may not alter their lifestyle dramatically following DTC personal genetic testing. But the PGen investigators reasoned that more complete consideration of baseline health status, among other things, might produce a clearer picture of test effects.

The results from this particular study suggested that shift towards healthier eating and exercise was enhanced in individuals with poorer self-reported health on the baseline survey, who reported adding both fruit and vegetables to their diet, along with a broader range of exercise types than their counterparts reporting better baseline health.

Green concluded, “We all recognise that genetic information has the potential to upset and distress people but by in large, we have found over the years that people who elect to learn this information do well with it. We’re not trying to say that no one will ever be upset or that this information doesn’t have the potential to cause stress, but if it’s presented responsibly and accurately, we do believe people have a right to know about it. Specifically on concerns, there’s a whole series of new players whose business model is interpreting genomic information. I’m curious to see how these groups manage given the complexities involved in genome interpretation. Definitely an interesting area to follow.”