If you could use genetic testing to peer into your child’s future and get a glimpse of her likely health risks, would you do it? Many parents would, according to a new study.
Be warned though: you might not like what you see. Most genetic testing does not offer a clean bill of health. Most of us carry a genetic disposition towards some kind of large-scale health issues like heart disease and diabetes. Do you really want to know that your healthy, vibrant little kid is carrying a genetic predisposition for lung cancer? We may believe that knowledge is power, but researchers and policy makers warn that parents may not really be up for the truth about their kids’ genes.
Of course, knowing early in life about a genetic risk for obesity or heart disease might prompt parents and kids towards a healthier lifestyle. That’s the argument made by parents who want to have their kids tested, and the private companies who do the testing, according to the Huffington Post.
There’s no evidence that these tests have a preventative power, though. They give you some information about possible future health risks, but they’re not really a crystal ball. They can’t tell you what will happen, or what to do to prevent it.
As a result, a negative test result seems like it might do more harm than good. I for one don’t want to lie awake at night knowing my daughter is predisposed to heart disease and wondering if I gave her those genes. We have enough to worry about with the real problems we face here and now.
As for being proactive about heading off problems before they develop, there’s not much to be done. Have a healthy diet and exercise habits? Sure. We do that anyway. Would we do more of it if we knew that our kids were genetically inclined towards heart disease or diabetes? Maybe a little, but I think we do pretty well with the less scary and more generic motivation of simply wanting our healthy kids to grow into healthy adults with long, healthy lives ahead of them. I don’t need the details on what health horrors might befall them decades from now.
If there were some specific health risks that could be mitigated or even prevented by early genetic testing, I would probably feel differently about it. But this kind of testing seems pointless to me. It’s gathering information we can’t do anything useful with, that might cause needless worry and fear.