Talk About It Over Turkey: The Power of Your Family History

No one ever said Thanksgiving was a healthy day. While we celebrate our gratitude in countless ways, most of us are guilty of overconsumption and sedentariness while we gather with loved ones. But between the helpings of mashed potatoes, third-down conversions and tryptophan-induced comas awaits a powerful, golden health opportunity: a conversation about family history.

Since 2004, the U.S. Surgeon General has advised Americans to take family conversations a step beyond football on Thanksgiving by naming it National Family Health History Day. As a genetic counselor, I am thrilled that the Centers for Disease Control formally recognized the need for us to collect more information about our family member’s medical histories, and has even told us when and how to do it. Last month the National Society of Genetic Counselors released a Family Health History position statement also urging physicians and patients to collect this information.

There are a myriad of reasons that we don’t know our medical family history. I’m healthy, I never thought to ask. Or, my family has the usual ailments. It’s awkward. It’s boring. It’s scary. It generates a garbled litany of diagnoses, medications, and tests that is barely understandable. And, commonly: it’s not polite to pry. But put aside these excuses for a moment, because family history can be an extraordinarily powerful tool for taking charge of your health. These are questions worth asking.

Now more than ever, we understand that nearly every single health condition is either primarily caused by, or its course influenced by, one’s DNA. Yet to date, family history is one of very few practical medical tools that can identify disease susceptibilities before symptoms present. It has been termed the “single —> Read More