Genetic Information Doesn’t Lead to Health Behavior Change

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Summary:  This systematic review of the scientific evidence examines the effectiveness of genetic information on health behavior change.  Genetic testing is being increasingly used in a growing number of healthcare settings and in direct-to-consumer testing for a range of common complex disorders. There is an expectation that communicating DNA based disease risk estimates will motivate changes in key health behaviors, including smoking, diet, and physical activity. There is a need for a rigorous systematic review to examine whether communicating genetic risks does indeed motivate risk-reducing behavior change.

The results of this updated systematic review with meta-analysis using Cochrane methods suggest that communicating DNA based disease risk estimates has little or no impact on risk-reducing health behavior. Existing evidence does not support expectations that such interventions could play a major role in motivating behavior change to improve population health.

Conclusion:  Expectations that communicating DNA based risk estimates changes behavior is not supported by existing evidence. These results do not support use of genetic testing or the search for risk-conferring gene variants for common complex diseases on the basis that they motivate risk-reducing behavior.

Significance:  If we are expecting wide scale genetic testing to lead to massive improvements in population health and wellness we are likely to be disappointed.  Effective Wellness programs will be required to help achieve the health behavioral results that will lead to improvements in population health.

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