A Thanksgiving Portrait: Gathering Family Health History
Last Updated: November 23, 2018
Knowing your family health history is important for both your genealogy and your longevity. So this Thanksgiving, start a new tradition and have a conversation with your parents and senior loved ones about your family’s health history. What you learn might surprise you.
When we gather with family at Thanksgiving, it gives us the opportunity to discuss old memories and make new ones together. A National Institutes of Health (NIH) survey found that 96% of Americans believe family history is important, but less than 30% have ever tried to gather their family health history information. Use the Thanksgiving holiday to gather your family history this year.
A “Family History Day” Initiative
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.
The Surgeon General says, “Learning about your family’s health history may help ensure a longer, healthier future together.”
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 lifestyle habits to influence our health, but we can’t change our family’s health history. Having close relatives affected by diabetes, high blood pressure and other chronic health problems increase our risks for those diseases.
Yet another advantage of knowing your family history is for health screenings. Testing children and young adults sooner for illnesses like heart disease, high cholesterol and other issues can help prevent the illness from ever occurring.
Gathering Your Family Health History on Thanksgiving
Initiating a family health conversation on Thanksgiving might be uncomfortable at first. Or, maybe it’s as simple as asking a relative, “How are you feeling?”
These steps will help you gather your family health history over the holiday:
- Ask questions of several people at the Thanksgiving table, especially older relatives. They have the longest histories and are certain to have stories to share. Take advantage of their knowledge and their memories.
- Then, write down the family health history you collect. Recording the information is what matters most. The Surgeon General offers an online tool called “My Family Health Portrait” to help you save the information you gather.
- Share your family health history with your doctor and other family members who may be impacted by what you find. The CDC states:
“Knowing your family health history risk can help you — if you act on it… Whether you know a lot about your family health history or only a little, take time to talk to your family about their health histories at family gatherings this holiday season. It might not be easy. Your family members might not be used to talking about their diseases or might not want to talk. But starting the conversation is important.”
The CDC continues, “Remember, you’re asking not just for your own health, but for the health of everyone in your family.”
Have you been surprised by your family’s health history? How did you start the conversation with your family? We’d like to hear your tips in the comments below.
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