How genetic insights can make fitness, nutrition, and weight loss easier
If you’ve ever tried to start a new routine — whether it’s a new workout regimen or skipping that 3pm carb-fest — you know how hard it is to change behavior. We live in an era of data and have made vast advancements in our understanding of health, so we should be armed with the intel and the inspiration to make the changes we need to improve our lives. But it’s often a struggle, because fundamentally, we’re creatures of habit.
In recent decades, lifestyle habits have contributed to a dramatic increase in the diagnosis of conditions like Type 2 diabetes. If you know that you’re genetically predisposed to Type 2 diabetes, relatively simple changes — more exercise and healthier eating habits, primarily — can dramatically lower your risk. But research highlights the fact that individuals can struggle to make those changes, even when they’re armed with the results of a genetic test.
So how do we help each other commit to healthier lifestyles? At Helix, we think that it takes more than genetic test results alone. We believe that a new generation of DNA-powered products and services can be a key part of the solution, and we’re working hard to prove it.
But first, a little background. Genetic testing started in hospitals in the 1990s, first with select groups of highly engaged patients who were especially interested in this cutting-edge technology. Since then, genetic testing in hospitals has been laser-focused on healthcare, where the test results lead to specific action items like “get an EKG every year” or “start getting colonoscopies at 25 and have them annually.” Eventually, as we learned more about the human genome and the many ways that genes affect human traits, new ideas started popping up. Could we use genetic information to inspire more people to live healthier lives? And could we use research combined with individualized data to get people to exercise more and eat better?
We believe that the answer is a resounding “yes!” Data alone is a great start — knowledge is power — but it’s not always enough. A number of studies have looked into whether individuals make positive changes when armed with genetic test results, but participants in these studies are rarely given the tools they need to be successful. For example, simply knowing that you are more likely to put on weight with sugar intake is a start, sure, but there’s so much more. How can you find out which foods and drinks to choose? What are the best ways to track your nutrition and exercise in the context of your unique genetics? And how can all of this fit into your life without a big hassle?
At Helix, we are partnering with companies that are thinking about these same questions. Many products in our marketplace offer integrated experiences in apps and online to help individuals stay engaged and make healthier choices that are tailored for them. By giving customers access to their genetic information in an app they already use to track their foods and showing them where they can make improvements, we expect to see people making meaningful changes in their lives. You can see this action-oriented approach in practice with products like Calorie Mama AI: DNA Weight Loss Assistant from Azumio, and embodyDNA from LoseIt!.
We already know that it’s possible for genetic testing to be a motivator. As National Institutes of Health director Dr. Francis Collins tells it, learning that he was at elevated risk of developing Type 2 diabetes through such a test was a “kick in the pants” — so he lost 35 pounds.
That’s awesome. Now, with the benefit of next-generation sequencing and our marketplace of products and services, we think we can make those lifestyle changes even more accessible.
Getting on a treadmill isn’t easy, and switching from cola to water may not be, either. But along with our partners, we’re forging new paths to help us all lead healthier lives — one gene, step, and meal at a time.
Check out all of the fitness and nutrition products available in the Helix marketplace at helix.com/shop.
Helix is the leading population genomics and viral surveillance company operating at the intersection of clinical care, research, and data analytics.