Good for your family health
by Erika Dreifus, PhD
Learning about your family's past can be good for your health. You may want to incorporate family health history activities into your next reunion.
Knowing your family health history - medical information about yourself and close blood relatives -can be valuable in many ways. Such history can help identify your own risk factors for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and other health problems. Health care providers can consider the information, along with your own environment and behavior patterns, to assess your risk of disease. You may choose to have tests such as mammograms or colorectal cancer screenings to assist in early detection, or reduce your risk by modifying eating or exercise habits.
Even the youngest family members have something to gain. When my cousin's newborn son was screened and diagnosed with a rare Fatty Oxidation Disorder (FOD), several close relatives had screenings. Early screening matters; this heritable disorder is serious but treatable.
Recognizing how important such collective information can be, US Surgeon General, Richard H. Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., and agencies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have launched a "Family History Initiative." It features a free software tool available from www.hhs.gov/familyhistory . My Family Health Portrait helps collect and organize information about family members and diseases they may have suffered. Contents can then be printed out for presentation to the family doctor.
The Surgeon General's website takes pains (no pun intended) to highlight privacy/security issues. My Family Health Portrait stores information only on your computer. How safe the information is depends on how well you protect your computer.
A reunion is an opportune moment for families to share information. (For the past two years, Surgeon General Carmona has declared Thanksgiving to be National Family History Day, but the Surgeon General encourages families to talk about and record health histories whenever they gather). So reunion planners may be particularly interested in including Family Health History activities. Talking with relatives, asking questions and recording information are all starting points. More experienced researchers might review death certificates and family medical records to confirm information or collect more.
However you go about it, consider adding health history research to your family reunion activities. It's good for you - and for everyone in your family.
My Family Health Portrait is compatible with most browsers and operating systems. For those who prefer other versions, both a downloadable and hard copy paper option (in English and Spanish) are available. To order copies by phone, call 1-888-Ask HRSA (275-4772) and ask for "My Family Health Portrait" in English (inventory # HRS00360) or Spanish (inventory # HRS00361). See www.hhs.gov/familyhistory/order for more information.
About the author
Erika Dreifus holds a PhD in History from Harvard University and writes frequently on family history topics. Visit her website at www.practicing-writer.com.
|Outside agencies and organizations assist Spaulding Family Reunion health fairs.
|The Utah Department of Health Chronic Disease Genomics Program offers Family Reunion Packets to help you collect family health history at your next reunion. You can access the packet as a pdf here. You may also order a packet at 888-222-2542 or email@example.com.
10 questions to ask your family
The Utah Department of Health Chronic Disease Genomics Program suggests these questions to help develop your family health history.
- What traits seem to run in our family?
You don’t have to ask only about health – start with anything from your family’s blue eyes or curly hair to your height and personality – just get your family talking.
- Did my family members have any health problems?
- How old were my family members when their health problem started or was diagnosed?
- How old were my family members when they died?
If you don’t know exact dates, ask about the approximate age at death.
- What were the reasons they died?
Note if the cause of death was unknown.
- Were there any pregnancy losses or babies born with birth defects?
- Where were my family members born?
Ethnicity can be a risk factor for some health problems.
- Did any of my family members smoke?
If yes, how much and for how long?
- What other lifestyle habits did my family members have?
For example: Did they exercise regularly? Were any overweight or extremely thin? Did any have addictive behaviors?
- What types of allergies did my family members have? For example: hay fever, food or medication allergies.
health history is a hot reunion topic!
The more we know about health and medicine, the more it seems we
need to know. Family health history is becoming a hot reunion topic
that genealogists are looking at more closely, and there are products
to help foster the interest.
McGregor, MD, MPH, heads AppleHeart Health Systems, a company dedicated
to preventive medicine. A new service launched by her team is the
AppleHeart Healthy Family Reunion program. It includes a three-step
approach of health assessment, health protection and health improvement
recognition. Her objective to increase health awareness during each
family reunion. The process begins with selection of four family
volunteers: a family health coordinator and three group leaders,
one each for men, women and young people. These family members will
receive an AppleHeart Training Kit which includes an instruction
manual and "How To... Check List" . One of Dr. McGregor's
popular topics is Grandma's Remedies That Work - The Four Pillars
of Health. This can be a delightful addition to your planning. Use
"Grandma's Remedies That Work" as a topic of discussion
during the picnic or evening program.
interest members in their health and family health history, the
Burnett Family Reunion offered an optional workshop about family
health. Workshop objectives were to share information about illness
and wellness with the family and to educate members about taking
charge of their own health. Together they began diagramming their
family history in a genogram tracing health issues through several
generations. The workshop was so well received, that it will continue
at their next reunion.