The Washington Post

Gathering your family health history

Okay, so maybe this isn’t the most festive thing you can do to celebrate Thanksgiving this Thursday. But this family-centric holiday is a good time to at least make plans to bone up on your family health history.

The Surgeon General has for years designated Thanksgiving as family health history day, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has posted a guide to pulling together key documents and facts related to the health of your relatives. The reason you’d want to do this, of course, is that your family’s health history can help shape your own health future. Chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise can run in families. Identifying your familial health risks might open your eyes to symptoms to be alert to and ways to improve your own eating and exercise patterns.

The guide has an FAQ that addresses issues of privacy related to storing health information online and suggests which relatives to approach first (your parents, siblings and children) and how to broach the topic.

Knowing your family history obviously can’t protect you from getting sick or even predict what illnesses may befall you: There was, for instance, no multiple sclerosis in my family history until I was diagnosed. But if you find out there’s lots of breast cancer among your female relatives or that high cholesterol runs rampant through your family tree, there are steps you can take, perhaps seeking more assertive breast-cancer screening or getting your own cholesterol checked and treated.

Thanksgiving might well be a great time to get this ball rolling, given that lots of family members are in one place. But I’m not inclined to do more than raise the matter and promise to follow up with willing participants. Because, let’s face it: The last thing anyone wants to do on Thanksgiving is sit around talking about cholesterol, right?


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