More than 96% of Americans think it’s important to know their family’s health history, yet only 1 in 3 has taken time to collect and record this information!
In 2004, the Surgeon General designated Thanksgiving as “National Family History Day” and created a free online tool to encourage people to collect and record family health history (http://www.hhs.gov/familyhistory) – especially during the holidays when people gather and share memories of relatives, both past and present. “My Family Health Portrait” is a simple program that runs on any computer connected to the Web, using any browser. The updated program doesn’t require downloading to use, and the information can be saved and/or printed to share with relatives or health care providers.
On the opening page, select “Before You Start.” This section includes tips (in English or Spanish) on how to gather family health information. For example, you might want to make a list of relatives, think of what questions to ask, and find a good time to talk. Other hints suggest ways to keep records, and the importance of respecting your relatives’ feelings. When you’re ready to record your information, click on “My Family Health Portrait Tool” and follow the instructions.
The first information requested is about you. This includes a pull-down list of health problems, as well as the choice to add “others.” After entering your own information, the program helps you start building your family’s health portrait. Once you enter the information gathered from your relatives, the tool creates and prints a display showing health issues that appear in your family from one generation to the next. The result is a valuable tool for predicting risk and for sharing with your health care provider. You can also save your Family Health Portrait on the website and update it as you learn more.
The Surgeon General’s family health history tool is a valuable way to organize information and identify health problems that run in a person’s family. However, educators and their students may find additional benefits: the tool encourages students to talk with aging relatives and preserve their knowledge for future generations, and motivates them to establish better communication with family members who rarely initiate personal interactions. Although focusing on family health and disease risk, students who gather this information may also learn about family members’ careers, military service, travel, hobbies, and even trauma – topics that could enrich a student’s writing assignments, understanding of history, or choice of career.
About the Creators:
“My Family Health Portrait” was developed as a collaboration between the Office of the Surgeon General and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) at the National Institutes of Health. The original program has undergone several updates (2005, 2009, and 2014) and is now “My Family Health Portrait version 3.0.