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Genetic Testing at Work

A number of companies are offering their employees free or subsidized genetic testing in a bid to save money on health costs as well as to attract employees with flashy benefits, the Wall Street Journal reports. Though the companies are framing the optional tests as a perk, the Journal notes that they also bring up questions about privacy and genetic discrimination.

"There is always concern among employees that the employer is going to know more about them then the employee wants the employer to know," Chuck Hewett, chief executive of Jackson Laboratory, tells the Journal.

Jax turned to Newtopia to pilot its genetic testing and wellness program. More than a hundred lab employees at high risk for metabolic syndrome were offered a genetic test that examined three genes — DRD2, MC4R, and FTO — that are linked to eating behavior, appetite, and body fat. Based on the findings, Newtopia offered the employees coaching and advised, for instance, more high-intensity exercise for people with particular FTO variants.

Health-insurance company Aetna, Journal adds, has also signed up with Newtopia, and Aetna says more than three-quarters of its employee-participants lost an average of 10 pounds during the pilot phase and that the company saved about $600,000, or $1,464 a person because of that.

But companies have to be careful when dealing with employee's genetic data. Earlier this fall, the Journal says, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission proposed rules that would allow company wellness programs to request genetic information from employees as long as the programs are voluntary and as genetic data isn't used in employment decisions.