A Thanksgiving Portrait: Gathering Family Health History
Knowing your family history is important for genealogy and health reasons. So this Thanksgiving start a new tradition. Have a conversation about your family’s health history. What you learn might surprise you.
When we gather with the family at Thanksgiving, it brings back old memories and makes new ones. Of course, not all those memories are ones we care to recall, but they’re our memories, our history. Not just personal history but family history.
Studying your family’s history is essential to understanding what health issues run in your bloodline, from asthma and allergies to diabetes and cancer. We’ve all been faced with those family health history forms at a doctor’s office. How accurate have we been? According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 96% of Americans believe that family history is important. But less than 30% have tried to gather family history information.
Family History Day
In 2004, the Surgeon General declared Thanksgiving Family History Day, encouraging Americans to talk about and write down their family’s health history. This can help doctors predict what illnesses might affect a family from one generation to the next.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explain, our health is influenced by a combination of factors, ones we can control and ones we can’t. We can try to alter life style habits to influence our health. But we can’t change our family’s health history. Having close relatives affected by high blood pressure, diabetes and other chronic health problems increases our risks for those diseases.
Another advantage of knowing your health history–screening. Testing young adults and children sooner for illnesses like high cholesterol, heart disease and other issues can help prevent the illness from ever occurring.
My Family Health Portrait
Write down the family health history you collect at Thanksgiving. A notebook or a spreadsheet might work best for you. Recording the information is what matters most.
If you prefer, the Surgeon General offers an online tool called “My Family Health Portrait” to help you record information about your family’s health history. Use this tool to enter and save family health information, including details about parents, children, grandparents, aunts and uncles. The form you complete remains private and is not stored on the website. Only you can download and share it, if you choose.
Enter the information in one sitting, or save it and add more later. You can even print a copy to bring to your doctor’s office.
Starting the Family Health Conversation
Initiating that Thanksgiving health conversation might be uncomfortable. Or maybe it’s as simple as asking that relative who likes to complain, “How are you feeling?”
Either way, ask questions of several people at the table, especially older relatives. They’re certain to have stories to share, and they have the longest histories. Take advantage of their knowledge, their memories.
Who knows? It could become a family tradition.
Have you been surprised by your family’s health history? How did you start the conversation?