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Is winning a gold medal in your DNA?

Parents and children are opting for genetic testing to help figure out which sport or area of study they are most suited for, but experts claim this isn’t fool-proof.

Published: 28th June 2018 01:24 AM  |   Last Updated: 28th June 2018 01:24 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

HYDERABAD: Unfulfilled dreams can be disheartening, with many parents choosing to play out those dreams vicariously through their children. Genetic testing has been on the rise in neighbouring Bengaluru, especially with regard to one’s health, and new and improved technology has only been accelerating the growth of this sector. Will Hyderabad also catch up on this soon?

Parents are now testing their children’s abilities and skills in order to put them in the right sport or work on specific skills that will help improve their performance. Children in the age group of 6-18 years are undertaking nutritional genomics testing - an emerging science that studies how genes and nutrients interact. Several parents are trying this out now and come from varied backgrounds. Surprisingly, the pressure to take these tests comes from the children as well, who want to figure out which sport is appropriate for them. Soumya Bharani, a nutritionist for nutriGENEus, has been receiving an average of 10 parents each month. Although the company is just two years old, Soumya says that people are now more aware of innovations in science now.

Anjana Nair (name changed), who works in communications, says her 11-year-old son had been fascinated by his father’s achievements in badminton, who was a state-level player. Seeing her son’s enthusiasm in going professionally, Anjana decided to take him to a nutrigenomics testing centre five months ago. His saliva sample was collected and sent to Delhi. The results indicated good hand-eye coordination, which was a relief, but lack of speed concerned the family. The good news was that with proper nutrition and diet, this could be improved.

“This was a one-time investment to find out what he’s lacking and how to improve on that. It’s a healthy approach, which has helped my son focus his energy on bettering himself,” says Anjana.
“I found it surprising that the children were the ones insistent on what sport they want to take up,” explains Soumya, who started her centre two-and-a-half years ago. She explains that the process takes about four weeks, and a fitness test is done after three months to check progress.

According to Soumya, mood, muscle building, aerobic capacity and tiredness are some factors associated with nutrients. The test can cost anywhere between Rs 35,000-2.5 lakh, depending on where the client gets their tests done – within India or abroad. These kids end up taking the sport semi-professionally or professionally and see results about three years after the test was taken.

Ryan Fernando, the founder of Qua nutrition, says that they have also been providing clients with a fitness regime to improve the child’s performance in a sport. “We have seen 42 cases for nutrigenomics and 18 genetic testing cases for sports last month,” he says. Ryan sees these children engaging in structured sports, whereby they do not have time to attend school. Claiming that these tests have their own shortcomings when it comes to whether or not a child will succeed, Ryan explains that parents need to be ‘proactive rather than reactive’, where proper diet and nutrition are ensured at the initial stages of training in a sport. Currently, Ryan seeks to promote this type of testing at sports academies in the city.

'Genetics, only part of the equation’

Although Soumya says she has seen improvement in her clients, she insists that a DNA test does not reveal a lot. Environment patterns also matter, she says, adding, “People here think that genetic testing is the solution, but that’s not true. Genetics is only a part of the equation, the environment - such as socio-economic background - in which these kids grow up in also matters,” says Soumya.
“Parents need to understand that not everyone can make it to IIT or IIM. Your training, your preparation and destiny play a huge role in achieving your goal,” says Ryan, adding that these tests should only enhance preparations to achieve one’s goal. 

‘Not enough evidence’

Naveen Jayaram, the psychiatrist at Sakra World Hospital, explains that children are too young to understand the side-effects this testing may have in the future. “These tests are still in the experimental stages. Everything comes as package - with advantages come a set of unique disadvantages. Parents need to understand that there is no evidence that proves this is the solution to everything,” Naveen says.

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