Thanksgiving is National Family History Day

Here's why it matters

On a day when families traditionally gather for food, football and togetherness, the Surgeon General suggests you take the opportunity to learn more about your family’s health history.

The Surgeon General’s Family History Initiative is a national public health campaign intended to help people understand what health characteristics run through their families. Are the women long-lived? Do the men have a history of heart problems? Does high blood pressure run in the family?

The answers to questions like these can help you and health care providers understand and even predict issues you and other family members may confront. The information provides a useful context for prevention and treatment.

It’s common for family members to be unsure of health issues faced by earlier generations. That’s why the Surgeon General, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies encourage you to collect information if your family members are gathered on Nov. 26. Sometimes it takes two or three family members to agree on a memory.

To make the task easier, the agencies offer the use of My Family Health Portrait, a free web-based tool at It guides you to build a simple family chart and prompts you to note some common diagnoses and conditions such as osteoporosis, diabetes or kidney disease. The process takes about 15 to 20 minutes and the Surgeon General promises the information will remain private. The information is intended for you and, as you choose to share it, with your health care provider.

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