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Raising Flags on Health Risks

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DNA tests might one day provide physicians clues about our genetic predisposition to a slew of health conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and osteoporosis, according to an international team of researchers headed by Mark Shriver, a molecular anthropology professor at Penn State University.

Shriver helped develop a test that looks at dozens of specific markers in DNA molecules that shed light on peoples' ancestries. He says certain ethnic groups are more likely than others to contract often deadly diseases. Most people identify with one race or another, but in reality, all human populations are practically identical, genetically speaking.

It's well-known that women of European ancestry have a higher rate of osteoporosis than African-American women, who have a higher prevalence of obesity. But obesity in African-American women doesn't seem to be as dangerous to them as it is for European-American women. Research is also clear that: > African-American women are three times as likely to die of heart disease as white counterparts. > African-Americans are more likely to have asthma and prostate cancer. > Jewish women of European origin are more likely to develop breast cancer than non-Jewish females from the same areas. > Among Mennonites in Lancaster County, Pa., a tightly knit group, 1 in 400 is born with a rare metabolic disease --- but the risk in the general population is 1 in 200,000.

Copyright 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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