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Negotiating the boundary between medicine and consumer culture: online marketing of nutrigenetic tests

journal contribution
posted on 2014-06-12, 10:48 authored by Paula SaukkoPaula Saukko, Matthew Reed, Nicky Britten, Stuart Hogarth
Genomics researchers and policy makers have accused nutrigenetic testing companies-which provide DNA-based nutritional advice online-of misleading the public. The UK and USA regulation of the tests has hinged on whether they are classed as "medical" devices, and alternative regulatory categories for "lifestyle" and less-serious genetic tests have been proposed. This article presents the findings of a qualitative thematic analysis of the webpages of nine nutrigenetic testing companies. We argue that the companies, mirroring and negotiating the regulatory debates, were creating a new social space for products between medicine and consumer culture. This space was articulated through three themes: (i) how "genes" and tests were framed, (ii) how the individual was imagined vis a vis health information, and (iii) the advice and treatments offered. The themes mapped onto four frames or models for genetic testing: (i) clinical genetics, (ii) medicine, (iii) intermediate, and (iv) lifestyle. We suggest that the genomics researchers and policy makers appeared to perform what Gieryn (Gieryn, T.F. (1983). Boundary-work and the demarcation of science from non-science: strains and interests in professional ideologies of scientists. American Sociological Review, 48, 781-795.) has termed "boundary work", i.e., to delegitimize the tests as outside proper medicine and science. Yet, they legitimated them, though in a different way, by defining them as lifestyle, and we contend that the transformation of the boundaries of science into a creation of such hybrid or compromise categories is symptomatic of current historical times. Social scientists studying medicine have referred to the emergence of "lifestyle" products. This article contributes to this literature by examining the historical, regulatory and marketing processes through which certain goods and services become defined this way.


This work was supported was by the UK Wellcome Trust, Biomedical Ethics Programme [grant number: 080126/Z/06/Z].



  • Social Sciences


  • Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies

Published in

Social Science and Medicine






744 - 753


SAUKKO, P. ... et al, 2010. Negotiating the boundary between medicine and consumer culture: Online marketing of nutrigenetic tests. Social Science and Medicine, 70 (5), pp.744-753.


© Elsevier

Publication date



This article has been funded by Wellcome Trust to be made Open Access on the Elsevier website. It is freely available online at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2009.10.066




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