An understanding of how genomics information, including information about risk for common, multifactorial disease, can be used to promote personal health (personalized medicine) is becoming increasingly important for the American public. We undertook a quantitative content analysis of commonly used high school textbooks to assess how frequently the genetic basis of common multifactorial diseases was discussed compared with the “classic” chromosomal—single gene disorders historically used to teach the concepts of genetics and heredity. We also analyzed the types of conditions or traits that were discussed. We identified 3957 sentences across 11 textbooks that addressed multifactorial and “classic” genetic disorders. “Classic” gene disorders were discussed relatively more frequently than multifactorial diseases, as was their genetic basis, even after we enriched the sample to include five adult-onset conditions common in the general population. Discussions of the genetic or hereditary components of multifactorial diseases were limited, as were discussions of the environmental components of these conditions. Adult-onset multifactorial diseases are far more common in the population than chromosomal or single-gene disorders; many are potentially preventable or modifiable. As such, they are targets for personalized medical approaches. The limited discussion in biology textbooks of the genetic basis of multifactorial conditions and the role of environment in modifying genetic risk may limit the publics understanding and use of personalized medicine.
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Vol. 76 • No. 6