Behavioural changes, sharing behaviour and psychological responses after receiving direct-to-consumer genetic test results: a systematic review and meta-analysis

J Community Genet. 2018 Jan;9(1):1-18. doi: 10.1007/s12687-017-0310-z. Epub 2017 Jun 29.


It has been hypothesised that direct-to-consumer genetic tests (DTC-GTs) could stimulate health behaviour change. However, genetic testing may also lead to anxiety and distress or unnecessarily burden the health care system. The aim is to review and meta-analyse the effects of DTC-GT on (1) behaviour change, (2) psychological response and (3) medical consumption. A systematic literature search was performed in three databases, using "direct-to-consumer genetic testing" as a key search term. Random effects meta-analyses were performed when at least two comparable outcomes were available. After selection, 19 articles were included involving 11 unique studies. Seven studies involved actual consumers who paid the retail price, whereas four included participants who received free genetic testing as part of a research trial (non-actual consumers). In meta-analysis, 23% had a positive lifestyle change. More specifically, improved dietary and exercise practices were both reported by 12%, whereas 19% quit smoking. Seven percent of participants had subsequent preventive checks. Thirty-three percent shared their results with any health care professional and 50% with family and/or friends. Sub-analyses show that behaviour change was more prevalent among non-actual consumers, whereas sharing was more prevalent among actual consumers. Results on psychological responses showed that anxiety, distress and worry were low or absent and that the effect faded with time. DTC-GT has potential to be effective as a health intervention, but the right audience needs to be addressed with tailored follow-up. Research is needed to identify consumers who do and do not change behaviour or experience adverse psychological responses.

Keywords: Behaviour change; Direct-to-consumer genetic testing; Meta-analysis; Psychological responses; Sharing behaviour; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Review