Diabetes genetic counseling doesn t motivate behavioral changes

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For years now, the medical community has held onto the idea that counseling patients about their individual risk of diabetes based on genetic makeup could change their behavior for the better. Unfortunately, as a new study has found, when it comes to genetic diabetes counseling, high-risk people are no more likely to alter their lifestyle than are people at low risk for the disease.

For the study, published in Diabetes Care, Dr. Richard Grant and colleagues from Kaiser Permanente tested middle-aged adults at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston for 36 known genetic markers for type 2 diabetes. Forty-two adults were classified as high-risk, while 32 were found to be low-risk; all were overweight. Both groups were counseled about their results and were enrolled in a 12-week group diet and exercise education program, along with a control group of 34 people, whose genes were not tested.

The outcome, however, was disappointing. While the genetic test results had determined that those in the high-risk category had about a 17 percent chance of getting diabetes in the next three years, compared to the 9 percent chance of low-risk participants, there was no difference in weight loss between the two cohorts.

Clearly, notes Dr. Kava, this information about genetic risk was not sufficient to motivate the people in this small study to significantly change their lifestyles. It s unfortunate that this is the case, since the incidence of diabetes has been increasing and lifestyle changes can prevent or ameliorate the severity of the disease.