With Helix’s Help, Lose It Adds Genetic Insights to Weight Loss App

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there is scientific evidence that certain genetic variants are associated with various traits, such as a higher likelihood of having an above-average level of body fat. But that doesn’t mean the person will necessarily become obese, she says. Obesity is complicated and can be tied to several factors—not just diet and exercise, but also things like sleep and stress, she says.

Furthermore, an obesity-related genetic characteristic alone “doesn’t explain anything I should do” to achieve a lower weight, Stanford says.

Teague counters that some of EmbodyDNA’s insights are “more abstract.” If a person is genetically predisposed to having a higher BMI, there’s not one particular recommendation Lose It would make because of that genetic result, he says. “But what we can tell you is, behaviorally, you have this predisposition, you probably need to be more attentive to [BMI] than the average person,” he says.

Some of Lose It’s possible recommendations to users sound reasonable, Stanford says, such as limiting the consumption of saturated fats. But that’s also common-sense advice that could be found on any reputable health website, she says.

“That would be something that I would tell all patients,” Stanford says. “There’s never been a study that proves that high levels of saturated fat are good for you.”

Some of the app’s insights will be intuitive, and some won’t be, Teague says. And part of the goal is to help users understand themselves better. For example, Lose It is considering adding a feature that would look at the genetics behind people’s tastes, which might help explain, say, why they have such a sweet tooth, Teague says. “It just gives you intelligence; it gives you a set of choices, maybe, that you might think differently [about] in the future,” he says.

A big question with any type of genetic testing is what to do with the information. Stanford, for one, is skeptical that a product like EmbodyDNA is worth the money. She thinks consumers should take the service’s findings “with a grain of salt” and not go into it with “inflated expectations” of its potential impact on their weight.

But this type of service will improve over time, she adds. “I just don’t think that we’re there yet.”

Teague is careful to note that the genetic test results won’t automatically guarantee weight loss. “We still think weight loss is primarily a behavioral problem,” he says. Lose It will attempt to help users find the set of behaviors and choices that work for them. “But in the end, it is still going to come down to whether or not you make those choices,” he says.

James Lu, Helix’s co-founder and senior vice president of applied genomics, thinks that the combination of genetic information and other data incorporated in Lose It’s app will spur better customization of the product, which will lead users to interact with it more. That will hopefully help them “achieve the outcome they want,” he says.

But “it’s early days,” he adds. “We don’t know if the DNA information is going to drive that. We’re going to learn very quickly.”

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