Lose Weight with 23andMe and an AI App!

23andMe has partnered with Lark Health to offer a new type of automated coaching program that uses artificial intelligence to help you make healthy lifestyle choices.
Biopolitical Times
Logos of Lark & 23andMe

The direct-to-consumer DNA testing company 23andMe has partnered with Lark Health to “help you make improvements that work for your lifestyle.”

In typical 23andMe fashion, the Lark App is now being offered for the low! Introductory! price of $14.99/month (regularly $19.99). That’s on top of the $199 for 23andMe’s “Health + Ancestry Service” (Ancestry alone is $99). The 23andMe blog explains:

Lark offers a new type of coaching program that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help you make healthy lifestyle choices. Lark provides two options – a Wellness Program, for weight loss, and a CDC-recognized Diabetes Prevention Program. Both leverage your 23andMe genetic information using clinically validated A.I. to generate personalized suggestions for diet and exercise.

Just to be clear: The “coaching program” is an app, available for iPhone or Android. It was launched in 2014; a 2015 HuffPost article describes the basic functions, including a “built-in personal assistant, which chats with you almost like a person would.” The app itself is free, and some of the reviewers find the chat bot’s sales pitches very annoying. The Diabetes Prevention Program is offered as a benefit with some medical insurance plans. It’s the add-ons that make money.

The sample Wellness Report that 23andMe displays discusses the “Genetic Weight” of a 61-year-old woman who is 5'4"; the average such person weighs 157 lbs, they say. But here’s the fun stuff. “These habits made the biggest difference in people with your genetics”:

  • Limiting red meat is associated with weighing up to 12.1% less than those who eat red meat every day.
  • Avoiding fast food, up to 11.3% less
  • Sleeping a healthy amount, up to 11.1% less
  • Eating vegetables, up to 9.4% less
  • Exercising, up to 8.9% less

By the way, doing all those good things will not reduce your weight by 52.8%. (Fortunately.)

Dr. Eric Topol, at Scripps Research Institute, remains skeptical, even cynical, telling Bloomberg, “It could be the coaching turns out to be the same for all people instead of the idea it is individualized.”

A recent article in the New York Times puts it more gently, saying that the accuracy of this kind of analysis “remains in doubt.” But there is some recent peer-reviewed evidence that “Learning one’s genetic risk changes physiology independent of actual genetic risk.” So perhaps you too can fool yourself into doing what you ought to be doing anyway.

In short, the corporate synergies between Lark and 23andMe leverage 21st-century technologies to empower you to actualize your fullest potential. Caveat emptor.

Image from the Lark Health & 23andMe Media Kit