Genetic Testing: A Major Consumer Fraud
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Genetic Testing: A Major Consumer Fraud

Sunday, July 05, 2009By Richard Alexander

Genetic testing is a good way to lose weight, if the weight that’s bothering you is extra cash in your wallet.

The marketers of genetic tests say that people who know what their genes hold can take steps to improve their lifestyles and to avoid health problems and even personal injuries. Experts who study these things say that you’re just wasting your money.

The marketers make it sound so simple and so valuable. Just pay your money, and wait for your kit to arrive. Then spit into a tube, put the tube into the mail, and in 6 to 8 weeks you’ll know if your genes are perfect or if you have some flawed DNA that requires you to make major changes in your lifestyle and your eating habits.

It sounds simple, but the truth is that the results of a genetic test will probably do nothing to help you. What a genetic test is likely to do is to fill you with an unnecessary fear of contracting some horrible disease.

Independent scientists who have studied genetic testing as a tool for predicting diseases have concluded that the tests offer nothing of value to the people who pay for them. After an in-depth study, a group of scientists from the United States and the Netherlands offered this opinion on how worthless these profiles actually are:nn"There is insufficient scientific evidence to conclude that genomic profiles are useful in measuring genetic risk for common diseases or in developing personalized diet and lifestyle recommendations for disease prevention".

When the Government Accountability Office (GAO) did an undercover investigation into the validity of genetic tests, it found absolute fraud. The GAO took DNA from a 9-month old girl and from an unrelated 48-year old man and sent it to 4 different companies, portraying it as DNA from 14 people of vastly different ages and lifestyles. The same DNA should have yielded the same results for each fictitious consumer, but the results varied widely, and The GAO’s assessment of the tests included this summary:

“The results we received from all the tests we purchased mislead the consumer by making health-related predictions that are medically unproven and so ambiguous that they do not provide meaningful information to consumers. Although the results contain statements indicating that the information provided is not intended to diagnose disease or predisposition to disease, all of the 14 results we received do contain predictions that a consumer may interpret as diagnoses.”

After investigating genetic tests, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a strong warning that advises consumers to be highly skeptical of them.

These tests are inaccurate, and they overstate the importance of a person’s genetic makeup in predicting heath and just about everything else in life. Most diseases involve more than one gene, so no test can ever say with certainty that any person will develop any disease.

An easy way to do genetic testing without paying for it is to take a look back at previous generations of the family. A family history of a certain disease or physical attribute such as height is a good predictor, but even a strong history can seem to defy logic, as it does when parents who are 5’10’ and 5’4” have a son who grows up to be 6’10” or 5’2”.

And while children inherit their genes from their parents, children also inherit their parents’ habits, both good and bad, and habits such as smoking and eating poorly are strong indications of future health problems, regardless of a person’s genetic makeup.

The marketers of genetic tests claim that they can predict a person’s future health problems, and they also claim that they can trace a person’s past. People interested in their ancestry have been using these tests in attempts to trace their roots, but the results are generally vague and sometimes very disappointing.

If genetic tests were merely inaccurate and worthless, their only danger would be to the consumer’s wallet, but the fear that they cause might lead to needless personal injury. R. Alta Charo, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin, said of genetic testing, "It can lead to a decision to have your breasts chopped off before you've been sick for a day or having your ovaries scooped out before you have children.”

Beware of genetic testing offers.

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