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Between the Chair Massage and Blood Pressure Assessment

Companies are testing folding genetic testing in with the nutrition and exercise coaching that's part of many corporate wellness programs, the Associated Press reports.

Companies like Aetna and Newtopia are developing programs that use wellness data to identify employees who are at risk of metabolic syndrome-related conditions to then offer them genetic testing to determine whether they carry gene variants that affect their ability to metabolize carbohydrates or fats or harbor ones linked to compulsive eating. Those employees then work with a coach to develop a plan to improve their health.

"Mixing [genetic] testing into a wellness program may create a tool attractive to employers desperate to cut healthcare costs, one of the biggest expenses in a company's budget," the AP says. "But employee benefits experts have doubts that such a novel approach will gain momentum."

In particular, employees may worry about how such sensitive information is used.

The Aetna and Newtopia program has been tested among employees at the Jackson Laboratory, the AP reports. While 130 employees were invited to try it out, only 28 did. One of them, Scott Craig, a maintenance worker there, didn't learn about any genetic cause of his weight gain and high blood pressure and sugar levels, but was still motivated to lose about 50 pounds.

Wayne Gregersen, who works in the benefits department at Jackson, says the program costs some $400 to $600 more per person than other health-coaching programs, but he still tells the AP that he liked the results he saw. However, he adds that the company has to figure out why participation was low.