Do Genetic Tests Change Behavior?
Suppose you were told that because of your genetic make-up, you were more prone to diabetes or lung cancer. Would you watch your diet or quit smoking to decrease your chances of getting those diseases?
If you’re like most people -- you wouldn’t.
In a study published Tuesday in the journal The BMJ, researchers in England found that providing people with information about their estimated genetic risk for developing certain diseases, such as diabetes, lung cancer, skin cancer or heart disease, had little or no effect on their health-related behavior.
The study team analyzed data collected from 18 different studies of more than 6,100 adults aged 30 to 56. Each study involved one group of participants who received personalized, DNA-based estimates of their disease risk for conditions whose risk could be reduced by behavior change -- and a second group who did not learn their disease risk from genetic testing.
As an example of the results, smokers who learned they had an increased genetic risk of developing lung cancer were no more motivated to stop smoking than those who had no warning. Likewise, telling middle-aged men and women they were more likely to develop diabetes did not encourage them to begin a regular exercise program.
Although information from genetic testing may have little effect on changing behaviors, researchers point out that it may have other benefits. The tests may have a role in dividing populations by their risk level, so that people at increased risk of a given condition could be offered treatment, such as surgery or medication, or be given more frequent screenings for that condition to help reduce their risk.