Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

Conference on ‘Translating nutrition: integrating research, practice and policy’

Symposium 4: Diet and ageing

Impact of genetic risk assessment on nutrition-related lifestyle behaviours

The Summer meeting of the Nutrition Society hosted by the Irish Section, Queen's University, Belfast. 16–19 July 2012.

Jacqueline A. Vernarelli 

Department of Nutritional Sciences, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA


Genetic susceptibility testing for common complex disease is a practice that is currently in clinical use. There are two types of gene mutations, and therefore, two varieties of genotype testing: deterministic and susceptibility. As the term suggests, deterministic genes determine whether or not a person will develop a given trait in Mendelian fashion, such as Huntington's disease. Genotype screening for such deterministic mutations has existed for decades, and is commonly used in routine medical practice. In recent years, the sequencing of the human genome has identified several ‘susceptibility genes’ or genes with incomplete penetrance. Mutations in these genes may increase disease susceptibility, but are not causative for disease. Genetic susceptibility testing allows unaffected individuals to obtain risk information for a variety of common complex diseases and health conditions including Alzheimer's disease (AD), CVD, cancer and diabetes. The availability of genetic susceptibility testing has increased over the past decade, and several studies are now focusing on the impact that genetic testing has on health and other lifestyle behaviours related to nutrition. The aim of this paper is to review the literature and evaluate what, if any, impact genetic risk assessment has on behaviours related to nutrition and physical activity. This paper summarises seven clinical studies that evaluated the impact of disclosing genetic risk information for disease on nutrition-related health behaviour changes. Of these seven studies, only three studies reported that health behaviour change was influenced by genotype disclosure.

(Online publication October 25 2012)

Key Words:

  • Genetic risk assessment;
  • Behaviour change;
  • Diet;
  • Physical activity;
  • Genetic testing


Corresponding author: Dr Jacqueline Vernarelli, fax +1 814 865 5870, email: