Families know your health history
How familiar are you with the health of your family tree? While the relatives are gathered for the food and festivity of the Thanksgiving holiday, taking a good look at the family health history is also time well spent.
That's why Acting Surgeon General Steven K. Galson, M.D., M.P.H., has declared Thanksgiving 2007 the fourth annual National Family History Day. He encourages everyone to use the occasion to discuss and identify health problems that seem to run in the family.
"Having a conversation about your family health history may help ensure a longer, healthier future together," Dr. Galson said. "By sharing information, loved ones can help each other learn about diseases for which they may be at risk, and take steps which may reduce their vulnerability to them."
Results of these important holiday conversations should be put down in writing.
"Creating a health record will make it easier for every family member to preserve his or her health," the Acting Surgeon General said.
The U.S. Surgeon General's Family History Initiative was created to encourage all American families to learn more about family health history.
Surveys indicate more than 90 percent of Americans believe that knowing their family health history is important. But they also show that only about one third of Americans have ever tried to gather and write down their family's health history.
A careful family health history may provide insight into the risk of inheriting specific diseases, shared environmental factors, and individual health concerns.
People can't change their genes, but knowing a family's health history can help people take action to reduce higher disease risks that could be related to genes. For instance, they might seek health advice and have preventive screening earlier for the diseases identified such as diabetes, heart disease or cancer.
A health history also can encourage changes in behavior that affect personal health, such as smoking, inactivity, and poor eating habits. People with a family health history of some chronic diseases and cancer may have the most to gain from making lifestyle changes.
Information about family history can be accessed through the Surgeon General's Web site at http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/familyhistory/.
Because family health history is such a powerful screening technique, the Surgeon General has made available a computerized tool to help make it easy for anyone to create a portrait of their family's health. To access the tool, called My Family Health Portrait, go to http://familyhistory.hhs.gov.
Numerous improvements have been made to the Web site, making it easier to organize and report family history to health care providers, including combining the family tree drawing (pedigree) and information chart into a single printout; improved save features to prevent losing entered information and enhanced help files and workflow.
Other activities that support the U.S. Surgeon General's Family History Initiative included newly produced educational videos with Francis S. Collins M.D., Ph.D., Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute in the National Institutes of Health. The videos explain to patients the importance of family health history in primary medical care.
The videos will be made available through the Web sites of some 70,000 primary care providers. Other outreach includes public service announcement posters to be distributed through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Medical Association.
In addition to the Web-based tool, printable, PDF versions and other resources related to the Surgeon General's Family Health Initiative are available at http://www.hhs.gov/familyhistory/.
"I encourage families to make the time to sit down together and become familiar with the health history of previous generations," Dr. Galson said. "This may help family members for years to come."