‘Battling my Biology’: Psychological Effects of Genetic Testing for Risk of Weight Gain
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The availability of genetic tests for multifactorial conditions such as obesity raises concerns that higher-risk results could lead to fatalistic reactions or lower-risk results to complacency. No study has investigated the effects of genetic test feedback for the risk of obesity in non-clinical samples. The present study explored psychological and behavioral reactions to genetic test feedback for a weight related gene (FTO) in a volunteer sample (n = 18) using semi-structured interviews. Respondents perceived the gene test result as scientifically objective; removing some of the emotion attached to the issue of weight control. Those who were struggling with weight control reported relief of self-blame. There was no evidence for either complacency or fatalism; all 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. Genetic test feedback for risk of weight gain may offer psychological benefits beyond its objectively limited clinical utility. As the role of genetic counselors is likely to expand, awareness of reasons for genetic testing for common, complex conditions and reactions to the test result is important.
KeywordsGenetic risk Personalized medicine Psychological reactions Weight gain Genetic testing Genetic counseling
This research was supported by a grant from Cancer Research UK (C1418/A10843). We would like to thank Professor Stephen O’Rahilly and Professor Sadaf Farooqi from Cambridge University, Institute of Metabolic Sciences, Cambridge, U.K. for their helpful and constructive advice, and David Withers for performing the DNA analysis.
The authors have no conflict of interest to declare.
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