The beginning of the year is a time when many of us are trying to shed a bit of weight. Sadly, it's not always an easy thing to do, especially when so-called universal diets don't really seem to work for everybody.
Fortunately, help is on its way, with the advent of genetic sequencing expected to soon play a role in personalised weight management strategies tailored to the needs of each individual. It might sound a little bit like science fiction, but it could be here sooner than you expect.
"I think within five years, we'll see people start to use a combination of genetic, behavioural and other sophisticated data to develop individualised weight management plans," said Molly Bray, a geneticist and nutrition scientist at the University of Texas at Austin, who recently led a report on the genetics of weight loss for the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The report, published in Obesity, suggests precision medicine techniques, including genomic data, will help health experts move obesity prevention and management from a universal model to a personalised format, with custom diets and activity plans specifically designed for particular people.
According to Bray, it's likely patients will soon be able to submit saliva samples for gene sequencing purposes. Along with fitness and stress data collected from automated sensors (like personal activity trackers) and information about a patient's environment and diet, this will enable computer algorithms to generate specific recommendations for how people can hit their target healthy weight.
Due to the popularity of fitness devices like Fitbits and Jawbones, consumers are already generating a lot of this data voluntarily. With access to genetic sequencing ramping up as costs of the procedure begin to fall, Bray says the challenge is for researchers to develop the tools that can analyse this flood of new health-related data. And not just for short-term diets here and there, but to secure ongoing healthy weight management.
"We are pretty good at helping people lose weight in the short term, but the stats on long-term weight loss are pretty dismal," said Bray. "We've made great strides in our understanding of what drives eating behaviour, how fat cells are formed and how metabolism is altered before and after the onset of obesity. The time is ripe to take this wealth of data and find ways to utilise it more effectively to treat people in need.