In 2004, the US Surgeon General and the Department of Health and Human Services launched a public health campaign called the Family History Initiative and designated Thanksgiving as National Family Health History Day.
The purpose of this day is to encourage family members to talk about their health histories as they gather for the holiday. Talking about health can be difficult, but it’s an important conversation for families to have.
Why is family health history important?
Both common and rare diseases can run in families. Having a family history of a certain disease doesn’t mean you will definitely develop the disease, but you may be at higher risk, especially if the disease has a genetic component. Understanding these potential risks can help you and other family members prepare for the future and take action.
The path to health awareness
About 1 in 10 people in the US has a rare disease and over 10,000 rare diseases have been described, with more being identified every year. A large portion of these are genetic, meaning they can be inherited and affect multiple generations in the same family. Some rare diseases are caused by pathogenic variants in a single gene, while others involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Talking to loved ones about health histories can help provide insights into your personal health journey. It can even be a huge forward leap in the path to a diagnosis. It’s also very important to talk to a health care provider about your family health history and any symptoms you may be experiencing. The provider may advise you on steps you can take, such as lifestyle changes, health screening or genetic testing.
Take action on your family health history
There are tools that can help families track and update their health history. My Family Health Portrait is a free online resource created by the US Surgeon General and the Department of Health and Human Services to help families organize their health information and easily share it with other family members and medical providers.
This holiday season, start the conversation about your family health history.