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Health Capsules
September 2006
Stay Skeptical about Genetic Testing

Earlier this year, we reported that one day you’ll be able to visit your doctor, have some blood drawn and find out about many of your health risks for the next 5 or 10 years through a method called genetic testing.  We cautioned, however, that we still have many things to learn about genes before that vision becomes a reality.  Unfortunately, some unscrupulous marketers aren’t willing to wait.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently purchased genetic tests from 4 web sites and created fictitious consumers to see what results they got.  They submitted 12 samples taken from 2 people, telling the companies that they came from adults with various ages, weights and lifestyles.

The results from all the tests would mislead consumers, GAO concluded, by making predictions that are either medically unproven or so ambiguous they don’t provide meaningful information.

The fictitious consumers that GAO created should have received the same recommendations when their genes came from the same person.  Instead, they received a variety of different recommendations, depending on their fictitious lifestyles.

Some results recommended costly dietary supplements.  One suggested “personalized” supplements costing well over $1,000 a year.  After examining the ingredients, however, GAO found that the same vitamins and antioxidants could be found in any grocery store for about $35 a year.

GAO’s findings reinforce NIH’s recommendations:  Take only genetic tests recommended and given by trained medical professionals.

Definitions iconDefinitions
Stretches of DNA, a substance you inherit from your parents, that define characteristics like height, eye color and how likely you are to get certain diseases.

Genetic Testing
Test that involves taking a sample from someone’s blood, hair, skin or other body part, then examining the genes to look for signs they might be at risk for certain diseases or disorders.


Links iconWeb Sites
  Get Active for a Healthy Heart

Physical inactivity is one of several major heart disease risk factors you can do something about.  A new NIH publication called Your Guide to Physical Activity and Your Heart has easy-to-understand information on the power of physical activity to keep you healthy.

Experts recommend that all adults should be moderately active for at least 30 minutes per day on most days of the week.  They recommend at least 60 minutes per day to help manage body weight and prevent unhealthy weight gain.

Children and adolescents also need to be active for at least 60 minutes per day.  So pry the kids off the couch and help yourself stay fit by doing enjoyable activities together.

The 44-page guide is full of practical tips, including simple ways you can incorporate physical activity into your everyday life, such as:

  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator.  Start with one flight and gradually build up to more.
  • Park a few blocks from the office or store and walk the rest of the way.  If you take public transportation, get off a stop or two early and walk a few blocks.
  • While working, take frequent activity breaks.  Get up and stretch, walk around and give your muscles and mind a change of pace.
  • Instead of eating that extra snack, take a brisk stroll around the neighborhood or your office building.
  • Do housework, gardening or yard work at a more vigorous pace.
  • When you travel, walk around the train station, bus station or airport rather than sitting and waiting.
Download this and other easy-to-read, science-based guides to improving your health for free at, or order them by calling 301-592-8573, 240-629-3255 (TTY).



Links iconFeatured Web Site

College Drinking: Changing the Culture

Your one-stop resource for comprehensive research-based information on issues related to alcohol abuse and binge drinking among college students.

From NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

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