Identifying genes related to weight loss motivates individuals to live a healthier lifestyle. Since the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2004, there has been growing interest in the use of genetic testing for diagnostics, therapeutics and now increasingly for genetic engagement toward a healthy lifestyle. Currently, a few select genes are being examined in some of the most innovative disease prevention programs available to help prevent chronic disease.
In the U.S. chronic disease – which includes conditions such as diabetes, cancer, hypertension, and heart disease – account for 86% of all health care costs.1 Fortunately, these conditions are also the most preventable as most are directly related to our daily lifestyle choices.
If these conditions are directly related to lifestyle then where does genetic testing fit in?
Why Look At Genes?
It is commonly said that general human health is determined 30% by genetics and 70% by lifestyle choices. When it comes to disease prevention the most common interventions involve diet, exercise, and in some cases behavior management. The genes that are tested in these programs include those that specifically play a role or influence these lifestyle factors. Understanding whether variations in these genes are present serves to educate, motivate and provide participants’ with a greater sense of control over achieving desired outcomes. For example, some individuals lose weight with regular daily movement while others require high intensity activity to achieve similar results. One individual may gravitate toward foods high in fat and sugar to gain pleasure, while another individual may not link food with reward at all. In some, overeating is a problem, in others it isn’t. Individuals even process carbohydrates and fats differently which explain why the same dietary advice does not work for everyone. Ultimately, if we can help individuals better understand the 30% to motivate the healthiest eating, exercise and behavior choices, for the 70% we will end up with a much healthier 100%.
The purpose of genetic testing in disease prevention is not to identify whether or not an individual has a gene variation which directly translates to a higher risk or diagnosis for a chronic disease – like type 2 diabetes. Such a gene or group of genes does not exist because chronic diseases are multifactorial and the scientific evidence does not support drawing these conclusions.
The purpose of genetic testing in disease prevention is to shed light on what we’ve inherited from our parents (the 30%) and how we relate to the lifestyle habits which influence our health – diet, exercise and behavior (the 70%). This information gives us greater insight as to how we can prevent chronic disease all together through the adoption of healthy behavior.
Genetic testing may help us answer questions such as “Which exercise intensity best serves my personal desire to lose weight”? or “Which dietary advice does my body respond best to”?
Genetic testing also drives engagement. It is clear that the more a program is personalized the more interested we are in putting our skin into the game. Also, the more a program is personalized the faster we see results which drives continued and ongoing engagement.
Genetic Diagnostics Vs Genetic Engagement
The debate regarding genetic testing and ethics stems more so from gene mutations which directly translate to an inevitable diagnosis. “Genetic testing for some conditions for which there are no treatments to date has the potential to cause psychological harm, stigmatization, and discrimination.”2 In other cases such as the testing of genes associated with breast cancer or ovarian cancer, genetic testing predicts increased risk but not certainty making decisions toward irreversible procedures very difficult.
To date, the use of genetic testing in disease prevention programs sheds light on whether an individual has inherited genes that – unknown to that individual – may be having an impact on how that individual’s body may react and respond to the players involved – diet, exercise and behavior. Essentially, genetic testing leads to greater understanding and more personalized program recommendations which drives greater engagement and reduces risk factors. In this case while we cannot change our genes, we can change our lifestyle and override the potential deleterious effects of our genes. This is empowering and a very powerful spark for positive behavior change!
Newtopia integrates genetic testing and lifestyle intervention to deliver personalized disease prevention programs.
About the author: Dr. Louis Pérusse, P.h.D.
Dr. Pérusse is a Genetic epidemiologist with more than 20 years of research experience in the genetic analysis of complex diseases and adaptation to exercise training. His research interests focus on the identification of genes associated with obesity and its related metabolic complications through association studies of relevant endophenotypes. World-renowned for his work on the genetics of obesity and exercise training, he has authored and co-authored more than 500 scientific papers. Watch his video on the Science Behind Newtopia’s Genetic Engagement