Weighing the plausibility of a genetic test for predicting obesity

A Harvard cardiologist and his team have developed an experimental genetic test for predicting obesity, NPR reports.

Sekar Kathiresan and colleagues published the preliminary results of their study in Cell a couple of weeks ago, and their findings were quickly met with skepticism from the medical community. While genetics certainly play a role in the development of obesity, experts question whether anyone can accurately represent the contributions of millions of independent variants in a singular test model.

Kathiresan and his team identified more than 2 million DNA variants that potentially contribute to obesity risk, the majority of which the cardiologist himself said are likely irrelevant. The researchers compiled results from peoples’ individual genetic tests to create one polygenic risk score, and in testing patients with the highest risk scores were most likely to be severely obese.

The test achieved some level of success—43% of people with the highest genetic scores were obese, for example—but also suffered. Seventeen percent of patients with the highest scores actually had normal body weights.

Kathiresan said he hopes his work will help destigmatize obesity “and make it very similar to every other disease, which is a combination of both lifestyle and genetics.” But Cecile Janssens, an epidemiologist and professor at Emory University, doesn’t see anything new in the research.

“It is not really answering a very relevant question from the biological perspective, and not really answering a very relevant question from a clinical perspective,” she told NPR.

Read the full story below: