With gadgets now tracking everything from sleep habits to blood pressure, you might assume that science supports the hypothesis that personalized health information promotes better decisions. However, a new study suggests that people who learn about their personalized risk of one common health condition, diabetes, are not in fact more motivated to change their diet and exercise to avoid the condition.
The researchers studied 557 older adults who had not been diagnosed with diabetes. They determined each participant’s risk of diabetes based on genetic variants in their DNA and on phenotypic data. Some participants were told their personalized genetic or phenotypic risk of diabetes, while others were kept in the dark. The researchers gave all participants standard lifestyle advice on diabetes prevention. Eight weeks later, they used a tracking device to assess the participants’ physical activity levels and reviewed self-reported dietary data.
While all participants slightly increased their activity levels, the researchers found that those who were given personalized risk data did not change their behavior significantly more than those without this information. Participants with personalized data were more aware of their risk of diabetes, suggesting that they did absorb the information they were given, but that it did not translate into exercising more or eating more healthily.
It is not clear if these results would also apply to personalized information about other medical conditions. Nonetheless, the authors recommend that policies should focus more on widespread promotion of healthy behaviors than on providing personalized information and assuming that patients will act accordingly. This study suggests that information alone may not be enough.
Research Article: Godino JG, van Sluijs EMF, Marteau TM, Sutton S, Sharp SJ, Griffin SJ (2016) Lifestyle Advice Combined with Personalized Estimates of Genetic or Phenotypic Risk of Type 2 Diabetes, and Objectively Measured Physical Activity: A Randomized Controlled Trial. PLoS Med 13(11): e1002185. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1002185
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