Genomic information as a behavioral health intervention: can it work?

Per Med. 2011 Nov;8(6):659-667. doi: 10.2217/pme.11.73.


Individuals can now obtain their personal genomic information via direct-to-consumer genetic testing, but what, if any, impact will this have on their lifestyle and health? A recent longitudinal cohort study of individuals who underwent consumer genome scanning found minimal impacts of testing on risk-reducing lifestyle behaviors, such as diet and exercise. These results raise an important question: is personal genomic information likely to beneficially impact public health through motivation of lifestyle behavioral change? In this article, we review the literature on lifestyle behavioral change in response to genetic testing for common disease susceptibility variants. We find that only a few studies have been carried out, and that those that have been done have yielded little evidence to suggest that the mere provision of genetic information alone results in widespread changes in lifestyle health behaviors. We suggest that further study of this issue is needed, in particular studies that examine response to multiplex testing for multiple genetic markers and conditions. This will be critical as we anticipate the wide availability of whole-genome sequencing and more comprehensive phenotyping of individuals. We also note that while simple communication of genomic information and disease susceptibility may be sufficient to catalyze lifestyle changes in some highly motivated groups of individuals, for others, additional strategies may be required to prompt changes, including more sophisticated means of risk communication (e.g., in the context of social norm feedback) either alone or in combination with other promising interventions (e.g., real-time wireless health monitoring devices).