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Heart Disease Health Center

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At-Home Genetic Tests: Little Benefit, Little Risk

Study Shows Short-Term Impact on People Who Use at-Home Genetic Tests Is Small

Participants Didn’t Change Lifestyle continued...

The researchers will continue to follow the study participants in an effort to determine the longer-term impact, if any, of saliva-based at-home DNA screening on behavior and stress levels.

Medical ethicist Ana Iltis, PhD, who directs the Center for Bioethics, Health and Society at Wake Forest University, says the findings suggest at-home genetics kits provide no short-term risks or benefits in educated populations like the one included in the study.

All the study participants were employees of health or technology companies.

“The bottom line is there appears to be nothing to be terribly afraid of and nothing to be gained from these tests in the short term,” she says. “But the findings also suggest that if we are interested in promoting healthy behaviors, this is probably not the way to do it.”

Usefulness of Tests

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill professor of Genetics James Evans, MD, says companies like Navigenics, 23andMe and Pathway Genomics, which market the at-home kits, definitely promote the idea that the tests will lead to better health.

The Navigenics web site makes this clear: “Our goal is to empower you with genetic insights to help motivate you to improve your health,” the company’s home page states.

“These kits are explicitly and implicitly appealing to the idea that knowledge is power,” Evans says. “The reality is that there are no shortcuts to changing behavior. You can’t wave a genetic magic wand and get people to eat right and exercise.”

In its investigation of the at-home genetics kits, the GAO concluded that marketing claims were misleading and that the tests were of little practical use to consumers.

Evans says this is largely due to the fact that there is as yet no accurate way to assess disease risk based on their findings.

“Even once we are able to do this, I suspect that the magnitude of risk conferred will be so small as to be trivial,” he says. “Most diseases have many components and genetics is only one of them.”

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