Lately there has been another flurry of activity in the Nutrigenomics world again and it seems to be gathering speed. Not only have numerous papers been published but also a tv documentary on the weight loss journey of 3 women following the nutrigenetic results has aired (see below)
Recent evidence has suggested that knowing genetic results does not necessarily lead to behaviour change (Wendel 2013) except for maybe in the case of Alzheimer´s disease and APOE4 genotype where case studies did actually change the diet and lifestyle following their E4 results. And whilst there may not be sufficient evidence as yet, I have no doubt that although some individuals do the test out of curiosity, most do it because they want to be sure that they are on the right path or if they have a “hunch” that some aspect of their metabolism or weight loss success is affected by their genes.
A common justified fear expressed by Obesity experts is that knowing ones genotype would absolve individuals of the responsibility of changing their lifestyle as they can so to speak “blame their genes”. Having first-hand experience I feel strongly believe in freedom of choice and avoiding a paternalistic attitude towards obesity. Each case is unique and each individual has the right to follow the personalised advice or to lose weight by the traditional trial-and error approach. By not taking the opinions of individuals who need to lose weight into consideration, we as the healthcare practitioners may risk being shunted as the “mentors”. Nutrigenetics is merely a tool to guide recommendations.
Interestingly in this programme, the 3 women were given very standard advice in terms of diet and exercise however it was the visual experiments and exercise guidance as well as the food comparisons in terms of calorie content that had the most impact. Also knowing and understanding which genes they had inherited which impacted on their weight loss success was a great motivator. So it seems that although we have the latest technology at hand, we still need to incorporate educational tools as reminders for portion size control and nutrient comparison.
Whether the science is sufficient to use currently to recommend personalized diets is still highly debated, however I see it as an opportunity to educate, innovate and motivate. At the end of the day, it is the client who needs to put the advice into action and the environment is usually out of our control.
In the same vein, health tracking devices which are constantly challenged for their accuracy have shown to motivate individuals to move more. From what I have learnt and observed to date, knowing ones genotype can be a great motivator and at times just the answer you were looking for.
Wendel S et al Consumers´ intention to use health recommendation systems to receive personalized nutrition advice