TL;DR Companies that use genetic testing to tell you what you should be eating based off your DNA (like Habit) are a waste of money. They are based on new, largely untested research and claims, and simply cannot offer you a worthwhile analysis based on an at-home DNA kit.
Ready for the long version? Here we go.
Skepticism Around Genomic Biology for Diet
“We still don’t have the ability to accurately predict the most healthy diet for an individual … with or without the use of genomics,” said Rasmus Nielsen, a geneticist at the University of California Berkeley. As Lund University genetic epidemiologist Paul Franks put it, “The concept is probably not quite ready for public consumption.” –Vox
Not only is there a HUGE amount of skepticism surrounding the science that backs up Habit’s (and companies like it) claims, the company itself won’t release its algorithms and hasn’t tested its methods in clinical trials. Fun fact: Habit isn’t regulated by the FDA, so it didn’t have to go through preliminary studies before launching.
More notable research from Vox:
“For most human beings, this information isn’t relevant. It’s not going to benefit us any more than the basic health advice.” –Tim Caulfield, a health policy researcher who has been tracking personalized medicine since the 1990s.
“At the end of the day, if we really could get the majority of the population to eat wholesome real foods most of the time — regardless of macronutrient composition — most of the nutrition-related problems would be resolved,” said Christopher Gardner, a professor of nutrition at Stanford.
The real problem does not lie in a lack of understanding around how to eat for our genetics, but around a lack of healthy eating in general.
How Does Having DNA Information Help People Make Healthier Choices? Research Says IT DOESN’T
The Problems with At-Home DNA Kits like Habit
Can you say “User error”? Because I can, and I’m saying it over and over again about at-home testing kits. We’ve got people eating Tide Pods and you think you can get accurate, uncontaminated DNA results from an at-home kit? Plus, any time you make people read instructions that they have to follow very specifically, you’ve got to assume your margin for error is huge. People have a HARD time with reading and comprehension, and with following directions (just look at all the people who can’t follow a recipe or put together a piece of furniture), so why are we all okay with people taking their own blood samples at home? Absurd. Contamination risk: HIGH. Margin for error: VERY HIGH.
Oh, and you should be aware that while companies say they aren’t selling your information, there’s no way for you to be sure of that. And we’re not talking about your super private gmail account here, we’re talking about your very unique DNA.
OH! Another fun fact: While genetic testing can’t technically prevent you from getting health insurance, life insurance policies can use the information to deny your application. So, maybe think twice about sending off your blood samples.
My Beef with Habit Specifically
Habit markets itself as “personal nutrition for better health and weight loss.” After you get your results, you get a phone call with a nutritionist who will explain your results to you and answer any questions you may have. Christina Farr wrote about her experience with Habit for FastCompany and was largely underwhelmed. After reading her review, I’m not only underwhelmed, I’m questioning the credibility of the nutritionists working for Habit.
“Overall, it mostly felt like an especially pricey hour with a nutritionist.”
“The coaching call felt similar to other experiences I’ve had with dietitians and nutritionists, albeit slightly more personal. A lot of the advice would have made sense for anyone, although there were some useful nuggets.” -Christina Farr
“In the absence of any evidence for the superior effects of low fat dairy, and some evidence that there may be better benefits of whole fat dairy products for diabetes, why are we recommending only low fat diary? We should be telling people to eat a variety of dairy and remove the recommendation about fat content.” – Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian
Other Concerns with Using Genetics for Diet
Rant Over; I’ll Wrap it Up
“There’s nothing in their response that provides anything useful to help evaluate their service,” researcher Paul Franks said. [Franks] wasn’t convinced about the genes Habit was using to customize users’ diet plans, “and the rest of the information they provide seems to hinge mainly on generic information about diet and health, which a good dietitian would recommend anyway.”