A careful family health history may provide insight into the risk of inheriting specific diseases, shared environmental factors, and individual health concerns.
People can't change their genes, but knowing a family's health history can help people take action to reduce higher disease risks that could be related to genes. For instance, they might seek health advice and have preventive screening earlier for the diseases identified such as diabetes, heart disease or cancer.
"Having a conversation about your family health history may help ensure a longer, healthier future together," said Acting U.S. Surgeon General Steven K. Galson, M.D., M.P.H. "By sharing information, loved ones can help each other learn about diseases for which they may be at risk, and take steps which may reduce their vulnerability to them. ''
Results of these important holiday conversations should be put down in writing so that they can be saved and even shared with doctors.
"Creating a health record will make it easier for every family member to preserve his or her health," Dr. Galson said.
A health history also can encourage changes in behavior that affect personal health, such as smoking, inactivity, and poor eating habits. People with a family health history of some chronic diseases and cancer may have the most to gain from making lifestyle changes. Surveys indicate more than 90 percent of Americans believe that knowing their family health history is important. But they also show that only about one third of Americans have ever tried to gather and write down their family's health history.
That's why the U.S. Surgeon General has created the Family History Initiative. Information about family history can be accessed for free through the Surgeon General's Web site at surgeongeneral.gov/familyhistory.