Consumer and Physician Awareness of Nutrigenomic Tests Is Low

Released: 22-Aug-2007 7:00 AM EDT
Source Newsroom: Wolters Kluwer Health: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins
Contact Information

Available for logged-in reporters only

Citations Genetics in Medicine (Aug-2007)

Newswise — Just 1 in 7 Americans has even heard of direct-to-consumer (DTC) nutrigenomic testing—genetic tests used to make individualized recommendations for disease prevention, according to survey data reported in the August issue of Genetics in Medicine. The journal is published by the American College of Medical Genetics and by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, part of Wolters Kluwer Health, provider of leading healthcare content, context and consulting.

Only a fraction have actually used a DTC nutrigenomic test, but this still corresponds to nearly two million users nationwide. The new study was led by Katerina A.B. Goddard, Ph.D., of the National Office of Public Health Genomics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta.

The researchers analyzed responses to a nationally representative survey of U.S. consumers. Of the 5,250 respondents, just 14 percent said they had heard or read about genetic tests being marketed directly to consumers. Consumers who had heard of DTC nutrigenomic tests tended to be younger and better-educated those who had not heard of the tests.

Only 0.6 percent of the respondents—four percent of those who had heard of the tests—said they had used a DTC nutrigenomic test. Just 10 percent of those who used the tests had discussed the results with their doctor.

Consumers' main source of information on DTC nutrigenomic tests was the media: especially television, newspapers, and magazines. Test users were more likely to say that health care professionals had been an influential source of information.

A separate survey evaluated doctors' perceptions of DTC nutrigenomic tests. Of 1,250 physicians, 44 percent were aware of the tests. Another eleven percent said that patients had asked about DTC nutrigenomic tests or discussed their test results. Like consumers, physicians most often cited the media as a source of information about the tests. They were less likely to mention more trusted sources, such as journal articles, the government, or other doctors.

Nutrigenomic tests are increasingly marketed to consumers through the Internet and elsewhere. Generally, they include testing for genes associated with common diseases—such as heart disease, diabetes, or osteoporosis. Some companies use the genetic results, together with information on diet and lifestyle factors, to assess health risks and make diet and other recommendations. In some cases, the recommendations include advice to use specific dietary supplements sold by the testing company.

Several commentators have voiced concerns about the lack of regulation of DTC nutrigenomic tests and the qualifications of the people interpreting the results. "[T]here is the potential for significant harm if consumers are interpreting test results and taking action based on health-related genetic tests without medical advice or counseling," the researchers write.

The results suggest that awareness and use of DTC nutrigenomic testing are still low. However, if the 0.6 percent figure is accurate, it would correspond to 1.8 million users of DTC nutrigenomic tests nationwide—a number likely to increase in the years ahead.

Although awareness is higher among physicians, the lack of trusted information resources is a concern. The authors urge scientists, professional societies, and government agencies to inform the professional community about DTC nutrigenomic tests—emphasizing the areas where there are knowledge gaps.

The study will provide a useful baseline for monitoring future trends in the use of DTC nutrigenomic tests. "We anticipate that these trends will change over the next few years as these tests are applied, used, and advertised more frequently," Dr. Goddard and colleagues conclude. "In addition, [the survey data] are unique in providing a national picture of awareness and use of DTC nutrigenomic tests and may influence policy and educational efforts concerning the appropriate use of genetic tests."

The Federal Trade Commission offers consumer information on DTC nutrigenomic tests: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/health/hea02.shtm

About the American College of Medical Genetics
Founded in 1991, the ACMG (http://www.acmg.net) provides education, resources and a voice for the medical genetics profession. To make genetic services available to and improve the health of the public, the ACMG promotes the development and implementation of methods to diagnose, treat and prevent genetic disease. Members include biochemical, clinical, cytogenetic, medical and molecular geneticists, genetic counselors, and other health care professionals committed to the practice of medical genetics. Genetics in Medicine, now published monthly, is the official journal of the ACMG.

About Lippincott Williams & Wilkins
Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (LWW.com) is a leading international publisher for healthcare professionals and students with nearly 300 periodicals and 1,500 books in more than 100 disciplines publishing under the LWW brand, as well as content-based sites and online corporate and customer services. LWW is part of Wolters Kluwer Health, a leading provider of information for professionals and students in medicine, nursing, allied health, pharmacy and the pharmaceutical industry. Wolters Kluwer Health is a division of Wolters Kluwer, a leading global information services and publishing company with annual revenues (2006) of €3.7 billion and approximately 19,900 employees worldwide. Visit WoltersKluwer.com.


Comment/Share