Norris, Joanna [faculty advisor, Department of Biological Sciences]


Rhee, Kyung [faculty advisor, Brown University]




diabetes mellitus; type-2 diabetes; health; genetic susceptibility tests


The National Institute of Health reports that more than 65 percent of American adults are overweight or obese and that the rate of obesity is steadily on the rise. Being overweight increases the odds of developing many serious health problems. For example, being overweight increases a person’s chances of developing heart disease, stroke, certain kinds of cancers, and Type 2 Diabetes. Particularly, the increase in the incidence of Type 2 Diabetes has paralleled the increase in the overweight/obesity epidemic in America.

With the development of new technology to identify and map genes, more and more diseases are being tied to a genetic marker. Recently, several new genes for Type 2 Diabetes and obesity have been identified. Given the growing number of children and adults developing Type 2 Diabetes, efforts to improve dietary and physical activity behaviors in this population are critical. However it has been difficult to engage this population in any preventative or treatment behaviors.

One idea to help motivate people to improve dietary and physical activity behaviors suggests the use of genetic susceptibility tests. Genetic susceptibility tests are indicators of a person’s risk for developing a particular disease. It is a form of DNA testing. Genetic susceptibility tests exist that can tell a person if he/she carries a “high- risk” gene for Type 2 Diabetes. This test in not painful; it only requires a swab of the mouth. A person that tests positive for the “high-risk” gene has a higher chance for developing Type 2 diabetes than the average person in the population. However, carrying the “high-risk” gene for Type 2 Diabetes does not mean that a person will definitely become a diabetic later in life. Thus, it is unclear how people would respond to knowing whether or not they carried the high-risk gene and if a positive test result would motivate people to live a healthier lifestyle.

In this honors project, a survey was designed to explore the utility of genetic susceptibility tests for Type 2 Diabetes to influence the motivations of college-aged students to maintain a healthy lifestyle. For example, one question in the survey asks: If you carried the high-risk gene, how interested would you be in changing your eating habits? Also, other questions in the survey are designed to obtain students’ opinions and general knowledge about genetic testing and Type 2 Diabetes. This project is still in progress. The survey has not yet officially been administered to a large group of college students; however, hypotheses, survey writing techniques, the relevance/importance of each survey question, and pilot data from informal survey participants are important topics of discussion.

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