Family talking at Thanksgiving dinner

Family health history

Co-authored by Todd Wagoner and Katie Bennett, both master's level clinical social workers at Community Touchpoint HATS clinic.

It’s that time of year! With the holidays approaching, many anticipate spending time with family enjoying food and sharing traditions. But that’s not all families share.

Families share a genetic make-up - the building blocks that make them who they are. Families also share lifestyles, behaviors and, sometimes, living environments that bind them together and influence their risk of developing chronic diseases.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that while only one third of Americans have gathered information about their family’s health history, 96 percent feel that it is important information to have. They are correct, it is important!

A complete family medical history can help you identify who is at high risk for developing common disorders such as high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, heart disease and/or diabetes. Relatedly, knowing your family’s medical history allows you to take steps to reduce your individual health risks.

In 2004, the Surgeon General declared Thanksgiving to be recognized as National Family History Day. We join the Surgeon General in encouraging you to discuss your family health history and educate yourself about your own health risks this Thanksgiving.

While it is evident that discussing family health history is useful, it may be challenging, or even uncomfortable, for some families to have the conversation. The Surgeon General has developed a useful online tool to help with the discussion, and make it fun and easy for families to participate. Use the tool >>

Keep in mind, it is good to be honest with your family members about why you feel it is important to do this together. It may be helpful to pose the request as a personal favor. For example, say “I’ve been concerned about my risks of developing heart disease. Can you tell me what you know about our family’s history?” This approach may be better received than “I’m afraid that since you and grandpa have heart disease, I’m going to get it too.”

Make sure you stress to your family members that you care about your health and theirs, and you desire to have many more holiday gatherings in the future.

For more information visit the CDC website or call Community Touchpoint at 317-621-4870.