Consumer genetics company 23andMe is broadening its health portfolio with a new report on consumers’ genetic risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
More than 30 million Americans have diagnosed or undiagnosed diabetes, according to the most recent federal data. The vast majority of these people — up to 95% — have Type 2 diabetes, meaning their bodies do not use insulin properly. Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are related to family history and genetics, but Type 2 is also strongly associated with obesity, as well as lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise.
The new 23andMe report estimates a customer’s percent chance of developing Type 2 diabetes, taking into account genetics, ethnicity and age. The goal, according to a release from the company, is to help customers learn about their genetic predisposition to Type 2 diabetes early enough to seek proactive medical care and make lifestyle changes that could prevent or delay the full onset of the disease, such as losing weight or eating more healthfully. Nonetheless, genetic risk only tells part of the story; someone with a genetic predisposition to a disease may never actually develop it, while someone who has no genetic risk but lives an unhealthy lifestyle may get a diagnosis.
The company used research data from 2.5 million 23andMe customers to develop the report, which took into account more than 1,000 genetic variants to calculate a person’s genetic likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes. The report, which is available through the company’s $199 Health and Ancestry spit test, also offers information on how weight, age and lifestyle can affect disease risk.
Earlier in 2019, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved 23andMe’s report on consumers’ risks of developing colorectal cancer, and in 2018, the FDA approved a similar report from 23andMe on breast cancer risk. (The new Type 2 diabetes report was developed in line with the FDA’s standards for developing wellness products, so it did not need separate approval, STAT reports.) In 2017, 23andMe introduced reports on genetic predisposition to Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other diseases.
While 23andMe has said these reports are meant to empower consumers and help them control and improve their health as much as possible, experts have cautioned customers against relying on them to make health decisions, given the complicated equation of determining chronic disease risk. In January, following the approval of 23andMe’s colorectal cancer risk report, Dr. Stacey Cohen, a medical oncologist at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, told TIME that customers should only use direct-to-consumer tests in conjunction with traditional medical treatment.
“I would ask that [consumers] take any health-related prognostication information back to a medical provider that they trust in order to help interpret the results on an individualized level,” she said.