Depiction of gene-environment relationships in online medical recommendations

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Abstract

Purpose:

This study examines the presentation of genetic and behavioral causation and prevention in websites that make medical recommendations to lay people for four diseases: heart disease, diabetes, lung lancer, and depression.

Methods:

A sample of 73 online medical recommendations from major health institutions and information portals were retrieved for content analysis, with a focus on the depiction of gene-environment relationships.

Results:

The results show a clear preponderance of behavioral causation and recommendations. When genetic information is presented, genetic and environmental factors (including behaviors) are depicted as independent contributors to health outcomes, rather than as interactive.

Conclusion:

This study suggests that interactive depictions of genes and behavior should be considered when genetics is presented in medical accounts of causation and prevention of common, complex diseases.

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