A Systematic Review of Genetic Testing and Lifestyle Behaviour Change: Are We Using High-Quality Genetic Interventions and Considering Behaviour Change Theory?

Lifestyle Genom. 2018;11(1):49-63. doi: 10.1159/000488086. Epub 2018 Apr 10.


Background: Studying the impact of genetic testing interventions on lifestyle behaviour change has been a priority area of research in recent years. Substantial heterogeneity exists in the results and conclusions of this literature, which has yet to be explained using validated behaviour change theory and an assessment of the quality of genetic interventions. The theory of planned behaviour (TPB) helps to explain key contributors to behaviour change. It has been hypothesized that personalization could be added to this theory to help predict changes in health behaviours.

Purpose: This systematic review provides a detailed, comprehensive identification, assessment, and summary of primary research articles pertaining to lifestyle behaviour change (nutrition, physical activity, sleep, and smoking) resulting from genetic testing interventions. The present review further aims to provide in-depth analyses of studies conducted to date within the context of the TPB and the quality of genetic interventions provided to participants while aiming to determine whether or not genetic testing facilitates changes in lifestyle habits. This review is timely in light of a recently published "call-to-action" paper, highlighting the need to incorporate the TPB into personalized healthcare behaviour change research.

Methods: Three bibliographic databases, one key website, and article reference lists were searched for relevant primary research articles. The PRISMA Flow Diagram and PRISMA Checklist were used to guide the search strategy and manuscript preparation. Out of 32,783 titles retrieved, 26 studies met the inclusion criteria. Three quality assessments were conducted and included: (1) risk of bias, (2) quality of genetic interventions, and (3) consideration of theoretical underpinnings - primarily the TPB.

Results: Risk of bias in studies was overall rated to be "fair." Consideration of the TPB was "poor," with no study making reference to this validated theory. While some studies (n = 11; 42%) made reference to other behaviour change theories, these theories were generally mentioned briefly, and were not thoroughly incorporated into the study design or analyses. The genetic interventions provided to participants were overall of "poor" quality. However, a separate analysis of studies using controlled intervention research methods demonstrated the use of higher-quality genetic interventions (overall rated to be "fair"). The provision of actionable recommendations informed by genetic testing was more likely to facilitate behaviour change than the provision of genetic information without actionable lifestyle recommendations. Several studies of good quality demonstrated changes in lifestyle habits arising from the provision of genetic interventions. The most promising lifestyle changes were changes in nutrition.

Conclusions: It is possible to facilitate behaviour change using genetic testing as the catalyst. Future research should ensure that high-quality genetic interventions are provided to participants, and should consider validated theories such as the TPB in their study design and analyses. Further recommendations for future research are provided.

Keywords: Genetics; Health behaviour; Lifestyle genomics; Nutrigenomics; Nutrition; Personalized healthcare; Physical activity; Smoking.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy / methods*
  • Behavior Therapy / standards
  • Behavior Therapy / trends
  • Exercise
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Genetic Engineering* / methods
  • Genetic Engineering* / standards
  • Genetic Testing* / methods
  • Genetic Testing* / standards
  • Genetic Testing* / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Behavior / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Life Style*
  • Quality Control