By Katherine Beckmann, PhD, MPH
Senior Health Advisor for Early Childhood Health and Development
Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood
This Thanksgiving take time spent with family to learn about your family health history. A family medical history is a record of health information from three generations of relatives that include brothers, sisters, parents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, grandparents and cousins.
Families have a lot in common, including genes, environment, and lifestyle. Together, these pieces can give clues to medical conditions that may run in your family. Your doctor can use this information to help identify if you or your loved ones have a higher-than-usual chance of developing common disorders such as heart disease, high blood pressure, certain cancers and diabetes.
Knowing this information doesn’t guarantee you won’t develop these conditions, but it allows you take steps to reduce your risk. Your doctor might recommend regular checkups or more frequent screening (like mammography). In fact, most of these preventative health services are now covered under the Affordable Care Act and available through the Health Insurance Marketplace.
Knowing your family health history might help give you the extra boost to eat a healthier diet, get regular exercise, and/or quit smoking. There’s nothing that says love like keeping your loved ones healthy.
Use the Surgeon General’s free Family Health Portrait to help organize your family history information and create a graphical representation of your family's generations and the health disorders that may have moved from one generation to the next. Print it out for speak with your primary care provider. You can also save your family history information to your own computer and even share family history information with other family members. No user information is saved on any computer of the U.S. federal government. If you prefer to use a paper version of the tool to gather and record your family information, printable PDFs are available in several languages.