23andMe Launches Massive Landmark Genetic Weight Loss Study

Just in time for New Year’s resolutions, 23andMe is embarking on a first-of-its-kind study that will engage with customers to learn more about genetic variants associated with weight loss, and the effectiveness of using different diets or exercise to lose weight.

23andMe’s new “Weight Loss Intervention Study” will attempt to uncover more about why each of us responds differently to exercise and diet.  While scientists know that a person’s weight is determined by a complex combination of lifestyle, environment, and genetics, the interplay of those influences is still poorly understood.

“We’d like to better understand the genetic, demographic, psychosocial, and behavioral characteristics that predict weight loss success overall, and on different lifestyle interventions,” said Liana Del Gobbo, Ph.D., 23andMe’s lead scientist on the study.

“This will help us begin to pave the way towards more personalized lifestyle recommendations.”

The size of this intervention — involving 100,000 eligible customers and looking at three different weight loss strategies — is unprecedented, and no one has attempted a genome-wide association study looking at behavioral weight loss.

Although there have been genetic association studies that focused on weight, or more specifically body mass index (BMI), no trials have looked at behavioral weight loss. This is important because the genetic variants that influence BMI may not be the same as those that influence weight loss. Also, for this kind of genome-wide association study to be effective, it needs large numbers of people to participate to uncover genetic variants. That is what makes 23andMe uniquely able to do conduct this research now.

And the time to do this kind of work is right. Obesity is reaching epidemic levels with some dire public health consequences. That combined with the difficulty that people have in losing weight — most people who try to lose weight fail, and even those who succeed in losing a few pounds often gain them back — makes gaining new insights into the genetics and behaviors leading to weight loss that much more important.

The study also comes less than a year after 23andMe launched its Genetic Weight Report that combines large-scale genetic and non-genetic data with machine learning to provide personalized portraits of how genetics and lifestyle impact weight.

This study builds on the work that went into that report. For this research, participants will be recruited from a group of well over a million 23andMe customers who consented to research and are potentially eligible to participate. To be eligible participants must be 23andMe customers, overweight, but in good health, between the ages of 18 and 70. There are also other additional eligibility requirements. Recruitment for the study closes in early January, and then over 12 weeks, participants will follow one of three different interventions.

Participants will hear from researchers every other week via emails to help them through the study, offering weight loss advice, meal suggestions, and live researcher forums for support and updates. Within a few weeks of the study completion, researchers will report back to customers some of what we’ve learned. There will be another follow up with participants six months and then again a year later.

“Ultimately, we’d like to learn how to make traditional lifestyle interventions more scalable and cost-effective. This intervention will be an exciting first step,” said Liana.