Family Health History

At Thanksgiving and other holidays, we should take the opportunity to talk with our families about health issues faced by our relatives – both living and dead.

Family Health Portrait
Family Health Portrait

Although we may be predisposed to the same medical conditions as our relatives – high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease, etc. – that does not mean that we will come down with the same conditions ourselves, only that we may be susceptible to them.  Like the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, these ailments “are shadows of what may be.”  Genetics are only part of the equation.  As the popular expression proclaims, “genes load the gun; lifestyle pulls the trigger.”

In other words, we may be predisposed to the same ailments, but we should not entertain the fatalistic approach that these conditions are inevitable.  Remember, a healthy lifestyle is the key to prevention.

When I started teaching a number of years ago, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) encouraged U.S. citizens to track their family health history with a chart, similar to a family tree; recommending that participants record known health history for each family member.  Since I did the family genealogy, it was a relatively easy task.

HHS now sponsors the Surgeon General’s Family Health History Initiative – a revised, convenient, and free computer tool (available in English and Spanish) to help families gather their health information.  This information should be shared with your family doctor and other family members.

Each year since 2004, the Surgeon General has declared Thanksgiving to be National Family History Day. Over the holiday or at other times when families gather, the Surgeon General encourages Americans to talk about, and to write down, the health problems that seem to run in their family. Learning about their family’s health history may help ensure a longer, healthier future together.1

Awareness is a key to preventing disease.  Take the time to learn what ailments afflicted your relatives and take the necessary measures – diet, exercise, screenings, etc. – to prevent or delay these afflictions in you and your children.

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