Can Gene Tests Benefit People With Obesity?

sharma-obesity-dna_molecule9Although we are far from having predictive genetic tests for obesity that are useful in clinical practice, a common argument against the possible use of such tests (even if we did have them) is that they may lead to fatalism and complacency.

I was therefore interested in a study by Susanne Meisel and Jane Wardle, from University College London, UK, published in the Journal of Genetic Counseling.

This study explored psychological and behavioral reactions to genetic test feedback for the FTO gene (which explains a small proportion of people’s excess weight) in a sample of 18 volunteers.

The primary finding was that individuals with excess weight perceived a ‘positive’ result as removing some of the emotion attached to the issue of weight control and relief of self-blame.

Or as some of the participants responded:

“…it would just help understand yourself really. Kind of…it makes me feel better that I have AT, if I had TT I think I’d be a bit upset, because it would be like, oh my gosh I’ve got…it’s all me, it’s me…but as it’s AT, at least it’s got something to do with my genes and it’s not just me being a pig”

“[…] because when it’s kind of scientifically objective you are able to see whether that’s just your genetic condition and it helps to deal with it the best way possible… to be able to address these things and not to make it into some sort of taboo that can’t be talked about”

There was no evidence for either complacency or fatalism, rather respondents emphasized the importance of lifestyle choices in long-term weight management, although they recognized the role of both genes and environment.

Regardless of the test result, respondents evaluated the testing positively and found it motivating and informative.

Overall, the authors conclude that,

“Although the predictive value of most genetic tests for “common” conditions such as weight gain is currently very modest, there may be benefits beyond “objective” clinical utility for individuals seeking advice, which could be explored in the genetic counseling session.”

Thus, there may be some merit to genetic testing for obesity (when such tests become available), even if just to relieve some of the considerable self blame so common to people struggling with excess weight.

I wonder what my readers have to say on this topic. Would you take a genetic test for obesity if it were offered by your doctor (even if this would not change treatment)?

Edmonton, AB

ResearchBlogging.orgMeisel SF, & Wardle J (2013). ‘Battling my Biology’: Psychological Effects of Genetic Testing for Risk of Weight Gain. Journal of genetic counseling PMID: 23832708