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GAO Concludes DTC Genetic Tests Mislead Consumers

In July 2006, the Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing based on a year-long Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation of direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing of genetic tests. The GAO submitted 14 fictitious consumer profiles, generated from just two sources, to four different Web sites offering genetic tests. The companies' results included predictions for diseases such as cancer, heart disease, or "brain aging."

The GAO study concluded that the information passed on to consumers was "misleading" because of the ambiguous language used to describe the results as well as the inconsistent predictions of diseases for identical samples. Furthermore, supposedly "personalized" nutritional supplements offered by some of the companies were in fact not customized, as evidenced by different consumer profiles receiving similar, if not identical, supplement regimens. The GAO reported one Web site's supplements costing approximately $1,200 per year, while experts consulted by the GAO said that over-the-counter multivitamins have similar contents and would only cost $35 per year.

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Last Reviewed: February 27, 2012