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Genetic predisposition to macronutrient preference and workplace food choices


Prior research identified genetic variants influencing macronutrient preference, but whether genetic differences underlying nutrient preference affect long-term food choices is unknown. Here we examined the associations of polygenic scores for carbohydrate, fat, and protein preference with 12 months’ workplace food purchases among 397 hospital employees from the ChooseWell 365 study. Food purchases were obtained retrospectively from the hospital’s cafeteria sales data for the 12 months before participants were enrolled in the ChooseWell 365 study. Traffic light labels, visible to employees when making purchases, measured the quality of workplace purchases. During the 12-month study period, there were 215,692 cafeteria purchases. Each SD increase in the polygenic score for carbohydrate preference was associated with 2.3 additional purchases/month (95%CI, 0.2 to 4.3; p= 0.03) and a higher number of green-labeled purchases (β = 1.9, 95%CI, 0.5–3.3; p= 0.01). These associations were consistent in subgroup and sensitivity analyses accounting for additional sources of bias. There was no evidence of associations between fat and protein polygenic scores and cafeteria purchases. Findings from this study suggest that genetic differences in carbohydrate preference could influence long-term workplace food purchases and may inform follow-up experiments to enhance our understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying food choice behavior.

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Fig. 1: Association between polygenic scores for macronutrient preference and types of cafeteria purchases.

Data availability

Data described in the paper will be made available upon request, pending application and approval.

Code availability

Code to reproduce analyses for this paper will be made available upon publication on GitHub.


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We would like to thank the participants and staff of the ChooseWell 365 study. JM is supported by the American Diabetes Association (7-21-JDFM-005), the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at Harvard (P30 DK040561), and the NIH UG1 HD107691. HSD and RS are supported by NIH R01 DK105072 and DK107859. RS is also supported by NIH R01 DK102696 and MGH Research Scholar Fund. The ChooseWell 365 clinical trial was supported by NIH R01HL125486, R01DK114735, and 1UL1TR001102. We thank Emily D. Gelsomin, MLA, RD, LDN, Department of Nutrition and Food Services, Massachusetts General Hospital, for critical help with nutritional profiling. The funders had no role in study design, data collection, analysis, publication decision, or paper preparation.

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JM, DEL, and ANT conceived and designed the study. DEL and ANT oversaw the study. JM and BCP conducted the data analysis. All authors contributed to and critically reviewed the paper and approved the final version of the paper.

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Correspondence to Jordi Merino or Anne N. Thorndike.

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Merino, J., Dashti, H.S., Levy, D.E. et al. Genetic predisposition to macronutrient preference and workplace food choices. Mol Psychiatry (2023).

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