About five years ago, the surgeon general launched a public health campaign called the Family History Initiative, to encourage all American families to learn more about their family health history. The surgeon general (along with the CDC, NIH, NHGRI and others) declared Thanksgiving day “National Family History Day”. Two days in one! Now, as a genetic counselor, you can only imagine my ties to this plan.
Health care professionals have known for a long time that common diseases - heart disease, cancer, and diabetes - and even rarer diseases - like hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, and sickle cell anemia - can run in families. If one generation of a family has high blood pressure, it is not unusual for the next generation to have similarly high blood pressure. Tracing the illnesses suffered by your parents, grandparents, and other blood relatives can help your doctor predict the disorders to which you may be at risk and take action to keep you and your family healthy. 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.
Americans know that family history is important to health. A recent survey found that 96 percent of Americans believe that knowing their family history is important. Yet, the same survey found that only one-third of Americans have ever tried to gather and write down their family's health history. I realized, myself, when I really thought about it, I wasn’t exactly the historian I thought I was about my relatives. So…what are you waiting for??
Because family health history is such a powerful screening tool, the Surgeon General has created a new computerized tool to help make it fun and easy for anyone to create a sophisticated portrait of their family's health. This new, revised version of the tool, called “My Family Health Portrait” is a web-enabled program that runs on any computer. The web-based tool helps users organize family history information, and then print it out for presentation to the family doctor. In addition, the tool helps users save their family history information to their own computer and even share family history information with other family members. The tool can be accessed at:
[Data from: United States Health & Human Services, 2008]
Clearly, I’m a believer. & the importance of knowing your family history cannot be understated. And anything is fair game…it doesn’t have to be something that you think is “genetic” per se. It can get pretty personal, and some privacy is definitely expected. Some people may be more reserved…and some may give you all the details about their last trip to the restroom. You know which family you are. So, depending on your own situation, approach with consideration, k?
Up to the challenge?
well, we're off to Tennessee in the morning, & just want to wish everyone a safe and happy Thanksgiving weekend!