As families gather around the table to feast and tell stories, it’s a perfect opportunity to ask about family health history. After all, today marks the 9th annual Family Health History Day, which wasn't created by pilgrims but instead the last person you’d see in a belt buckle hat, the Surgeon General. Sure, the holiday he created isn't celebrated with 7-story balloons or a Charlie Brown special like Thanksgiving, but it’s an important opportunity to learn more about your family health history and be thankful for it.
“An important step in prevention and wellness is learning about health conditions in our families that may put us at increased risk for diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, Alzheimer`s disease, mental illness, and many others," said Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin. While not the civil authority credited with starting this nationally-recognized, albeit hardly-known holiday, she makes a good point. It was actually Benjamin’s predecessor, Surgeon General Steven K. Galson, who deserves the title of Founder of Family Health History Day.
The cornucopia or "centerpiece" of Family Health History Day is its simple web tool, Family Health Portrait on the Office of the Surgeon General’s website. Free, secure, and easy to complete, this application is designed to teach you about you.
Begin Family Health History day by answering the Health Portrait questionnaire, because isn't that how every holiday starts? Answer questions like “How many brothers do you have?” and "What are their existing medical conditions?" to essentially build a family health tree with a list of known conditions for each family member. Once completed, you can view and trace consistencies between men who may have heart disease or women with breast cancer in the family, for example. The whole point is you have an easy-to-update history for you and your relatives to study in order to take preventative health measures.
Most importantly, this information is private. The federal website does not retain your family history or distribute it to other parties. This is just for you and your well being.
So while recovering from your tryptophan overdose that’s inevitable on each Turkey Day, use your downtime complete a family tree for your future. Even if you have a big family, you can keep it simple by detailing only members with known conditions. Use this knowledge and contact a family physician to discuss where you may fit in this tree and where your health could be headed. Will your new found education lead you along the same path as your grandmother who lived to be 100? You and your doctor may be able to make these predictions with the Family Health Portrait.
“On this Thanksgiving holiday, I hope you and your family will take a few minutes to create a family health portrait,” Dr. Benjamin said. “Learning your family’s health history is a valuable investment to make in your health and your family’s health.”
And have a Happy Thanksgiving!