Genetic susceptibility, family history and prevention

Genetic susceptibility, family history information and disease prevention in public health: type 2 diabetes as an example


  1. What is the impact of using family history information in a web-based tailored intervention aimed at type 2 diabetes prevention?
  2. What are possible positive and negative outcomes of the increasing number of family history tools for multifactorial diseases, type 2 diabetes in particular?

Duration: January 2008-June 2011

Some people are predisposed to common diseases like diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Researchers point to certain genetic variants that form a risk factor for such diseases. They can, for example, determine the genetic susceptibility for diabetes type 2, a disease that is more and more common due to overweight and little exercise. The predictive value of commercial genetic tests for these kinds of so-called multifactorial diseases is, however, very low. The providers of such tests claim that people will adopt a healthier lifestyle because of the warning results of the test. Others however expect that the tests will lead to fatalism.

To examine whether this is true, family history might be used. In the study of multifactorial diseases, family history as a risk factor has so far not been used or studied. Next to genetic predisposition, family history also brings shared environment and shared behavior into the picture. Research has shown that test results do not lead to fear or fatalism. Some people even have, on the contrary, a stronger sense of control.

This study has shown that family history can be used as a tool to personalise prevention messages and may change predictive behaviour among certain high-risk populations. Moreover, integrating a detailed family history questionnaire to diabetes risk assessments results in a higher number of participants that will be identified as having a high diabetes risk.