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Can a home DNA test kit help me lose weight?

The NHS in Essex are trialling a personalised weight-loss plan based on a DNA test – so could this be a new, and more effective, way to diet?

The NHS’s hopes for the scheme hail from a study in Italy, which showed that people put on diets tailored to the results from a simple commercially-available DNA test kit lost 33% more weight than those on a generic plan.

So, could we achieve the same for ourselves using home DNA testing kits we can buy from the chemist or online? Besides obesity, these tests claim they can identify dozens of conditions in your future, such as Alzheimer's, hereditary hearing loss and sickle cell anaemia.

It’s tempting to think that, because the NHS is using them then we all should. But in reality the NHS trial is simply that – a small trial designed to investigate further how much use such personalisation might be. At the moment there is not enough evidence to recommend its widespread use. And the same is true of commercially available DNA test kits in general.

While it’s relatively easy to give someone an accurate breakdown of their genetic code, interpreting them is much more difficult.

Though the genes that lurk behind obesity and certain cancers have been thoroughly researched, vast swatches of our genetic code are still poorly understood.

Having one particular gene variant is not necessarily a calling card for a certain disease. While there is robust research which looks at the manifestation of a given gene in many thousands of people, the data only really makes sense on a population level. It doesn’t mean much for you as an individual.

If you do choose to take one of these tests, remember that your results will indicate you might have an increased risk — and it is very difficult to interpret what that ‘increased risk’ actually means for an individual. You also have to consider that, if the test results show you have a higher chance of acquiring an incurable disease, whether you want to spend decades worrying about it.

In the coming decades, a portfolio of your personalised genetic data might come in really useful, but right now home DNA kits are not worth spending your cash on.