Today has just started, but I already have a highlight from the Canadian Obesity Summit to share – this one is about whether personal DNA genome testing brings any positive health benefits. 

The riveting and entertaining talk, provided by Timothy Caulfield of the University of Alberta, reviewed some of the purported benefits of DNA testing that exist out there  – everything from tailoring your diet to ‘scientific’ matching on dating websites. There are a lot of outfits out there that charge a lot of money for genome analysis, stating that they can provide you with a comprehensive risk assessment for various diseases, plus help you tailor your diet and lifestyle to minimize your genetic risk. 

While there are certainly certain specific genes that are clearly associated with risk (eg the BRCA2 mutation that is associated with breast and ovarian cancer), Professor Caulfield’s main point was that based on current data, we do not have any significant ability to make a difference to health or outcomes with total DNA genome analysis.  

For one, our technology is not at a point where it actually provides comprehensive, useful information about genetic risk.  For everything we learn about the genome, the picture becomes more complex and muddied rather than becoming clearer – for every answer, a dozen new questions are generated.  

For another, there is very little consistency in genome analysis – he pointed out that when one person’s DNA is sent to 5 different companies for analysis, they will often get 5 different sets of results as to what they are at risk for. 

Also, the ‘life-changing’ advice that a lot of these genome analyses give you are remarkably familiar – advice like ‘eat well’, ‘exercise’, and ‘stop smoking’.  Yeah… I think we already knew that.  

As far as appetite and obesity goes, the story is so very complex – it’s not one that can be told with the primitive understanding of the human genome that we currently have.

The bottom line is that only 1 in 1000 of us actually stick to all of the Simple Seven steps to leading a healthy life – it seems that here is where our focus should be. 

Dr Sue Pedersen © 2013 

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