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Psychological and Behavioral Responses to Genetic Test Results Indicating Increased Risk of Obesity: Does the Causal Pathway from Gene to Obesity Matter?

Sanderson S.C.a · Persky S.b · Michie S.c
aMount Sinai School of Medicine, Department of Genetics and Genomic Sciences, New York, N.Y., bNational Human Genome Research Institute, Bethesda, Md., USA; cUniversity College London, Department of Psychology, London, UK Public Health Genomics 2010;13:34–47 (DOI:10.1159/000217794)


Background: Common obesity-associated genetic variants may exert their effects through increasing eating or decreasing metabolism. Such differences might influence individual responses to obesity genetic test results.Methods: This was an experimental analogue study: 191 participants were asked to imagine they had received a genetic test result indicating high eating-based (n = 37) or high metabolism-based (n = 41) risk of obesity, an enzyme test result indicating high eating-based (n = 35) or high metabolism-based (n = 41) risk of obesity, or no risk information (n = 37). Outcomes included perceived risk, self-efficacy (confidence in ability to eat healthily), response-efficacy (confidence that eating healthily will reduce risk), and intention to eat healthily. Results: The groups receiving increased obesity risk information reported greater perceived risk and intention to eat healthily than the no risk information group (both p < 0.01). There were main effects of test type on perceived risk (genetic vs. enzyme: 3.91 vs. 3.55, p = 0.031) and of causal pathway on worry (eating vs. metabolism: 3.33 vs. 2.86, p = 0.049), but no effects of either manipulation on any other outcomes. Conclusion: Personal risk information indicating increased obesity risk may increase motivation to eat healthily, regardless of whether the risk is described as genetic or non-genetic or as acting through an eating-based or metabolism-based causal pathway.


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