David Kaufman of the Genetics and Public Policy Center in Washington DC quizzed 1048 customers who had ordered genome scans from Decode Genetics of Reykjavik, Iceland, 23andMe of Mountain View, California, or Navigenics, based in Foster City, California.There's obviously a selectional effect at play here. People who have gone about personalized genomics are already primed to act on that data, otherwise they wouldn't have gone about it in the first place. A bigger question would be: How would a random sampling of individuals respond to the acquisition of personal genomic data and a listing of their potential risks?
Asked about changes in their behaviour between two and six months after receiving the results, 34 per cent of respondents said they were being more careful about their diet, 14 per cent said they were doing more exercise, and 16 per cent had changed their medications or dietary supplements.
"I was surprised at the number of people who said they'd made changes already," says Kaufman, who revealed the results this week at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) in Washington DC.
That's impressive because getting people to adopt more healthy lifestyles is notoriously difficult – even when family history shows a high risk of conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart attacks.
My guess is that the figure would be a bit lower than that of the early adopters used in the study. Denial can be a pretty powerful de-motivational factor; people in the pre-contemplative phase of behavior change overtly ignore or dismiss information, even when it's overwhelmingly evident that their lifestyle choices have to change.
That said, these results are very encouraging; it points to a future in which behavior modification can be facilitated through the dissemination of highly personalized genetic information.