Would you support genetic testing in children to find out if they’re at risk for developing certain health problems? Most parents would, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics. However, experts aren’t sure of the usefulness of the information acquired.
Gene tests are typically marketed as a way to motivate people to make lifestyle changes – such as exercising more, eating a more balanced diet, quitting smoking, etc. – to prevent the onset of many diseases. For example, type 2 diabetes is directly related to obesity. Maintaining a healthy weight can potentially prevent the illness.
The popularity of gene testing is growing, and more parents want to find out their children’s risk.
Can Gene Tests Predict the Future?
For this study, the researchers surveyed 219 parents from the NIH’s National Human Genome Initiative. They asked whether they would like their children genetically tested, and they were offered genetic testing for themselves. The parents were also asked if they understood the risks and benefits of gene tests.
The parents who agreed to the gene test were more likely to want their children tested, especially if they believed there would be a positive outcome. The parents were tested for 15 genetic variants that connected to lung cancer, skin cancer, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis.
Genetics aren’t the only factor that predict a person’s risk for certain diseases, warn the study’s authors.
“The environment can be more important than genes,” said Dr. Kenneth P. Tercyak, study author. “Disentangling the two over the life course is still a puzzle.”
The National Human Genome Research Institute has stated that not enough is known about how genes interact with lifestyle and environment. Genetic tests may not be that reliable in predicting the future. A person may be “at risk” for a certain condition, and they never develop it.
Because of this, genetic testing may false reassure people that they’ll be healthy in the future, when there may be undiscovered risk factors at play. Alternatively, gene tests may worry other people of diseases when they may have undiscovered protective factors.
Should Children Undergo Gene Tests?
This is the ongoing debate. Parents may want their children to undergo genetic testing, but their reliability and usefulness is highly debated. Some experts argue against testing, since it causes unnecessary worry for a disease that may not come to pass.
Many diseases and illnesses can be remedied with healthy lifestyle choices, exercise, a healthy diet. We must remember that lifestyle plays a role.
According to Reuters, genetic tests have not been proven to prevent or reduce bad health outcomes.
What do you think about gene tests in children? If you were given a chance, would you allow your children to have genetic testing?