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Nutrigenetic Testing: Tests Purchased from Four Web Sites Mislead Consumers

GAO-06-977T Published: Jul 27, 2006. Publicly Released: Jul 27, 2006.
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Scientists increasingly believe that most, if not all, diseases have a genetic component. Consequently, genetic testing is becoming an integral part of health care with great potential for future test development and use. Some genetic tests are sold directly to the consumer via the Internet or retail stores, and purport to use genetic information to deliver personalized nutrition and lifestyle guidance. These tests require consumers to self-collect a sample of genetic material, usually from a cheek swab, and then forward the sample to a laboratory for analysis. Companies that market this type of test claim to provide consumers with the information needed to tailor their diet and exercise programs to address their genetically determined health risks. GAO was asked to investigate the "legitimacy" of these claims. This testimony reflects the findings of GAO's investigation of a nonrepresentative selection of genetic tests. Specifically, GAO purchased tests from four Web sites and created "fictitious consumers" by submitting for analysis 12 DNA samples from a female and 2 samples from an unrelated male, and describing this DNA as coming from adults of various ages, weights, and lifestyle descriptions. GAO also consulted with experts in genetics and nutrition.

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Disease detection or diagnosisGeneticsHealth care fraudProduct evaluationRequirements definitionTestingWebsitesConsumer protectionNutritionConsumers