By Dr. Sandra Melvin
Jackson Advocate Guest Writer
November 24 (Thanksgiving Day) is Family Health History Day, a national public health campaign that urges people to learn the health risks that impact their families. The Institute for the Advancement of Minority Health encourages families to use the holidays to discuss their family health history.
Just as a person inherits their mother’s eyes, their father’s chin, and their grandmother’s unusual disposition, chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer are also passed down through generations. Together, these factors create family health history. Ideally, a complete family health history contains information from generations of relatives. This includes parents, siblings, children, aunts/uncles, grandparents, and even cousins. Because families share everything – backgrounds, diets, lifestyles, habits, and environments, illness can easily “run” in families. Patterns of illnesses or disorders can predict if an individual may be at an increased risk for developing a certain condition. Therefore, family health history is an important tool for primary care physicians and other medical professionals.
With the use of family health history, physicians may recommend regular checkups, testing, or frequent screenings for those with increased risk of various diseases. Although it is not possible to change your DNA, family health history can help guide the path for a healthier future. For example, an individual with a history of heart disease can lower their chance of developing cardio related illnesses by implementing a healthier diet, exercising regularly, and smoking cessation.
Family secrets can make these conversations regarding physical and emotional illnesses difficult. No matter how hard, these conversations must take place for the health of the entire family, especially younger generations. Secrets have a way of revealing themselves at the most inopportune times. I encourage each of you not to allow a health crisis to reveal an illness that if known about sooner could have been treated.
Talking to relatives about their health, illnesses, and causes of death of family members who have transitioned is the best way to secure family health history. Engaging directly during large family gatherings such as Thanksgiving dinner is the great time to build bonds, expand knowledge about ancestors, and create a family health history.
Once a family health history is created, please share it! Share it with other family members and your physician. Forms are available via the Institute for the Advancement of Minority Health social media pages or at http://bit.ly/3EsE6jm.
I encourage you to not wait until the new year to protect your family’s health. Generate and utilize your family health history. Learn your risk factors and work with your physician. Make the decision and try to be illness free in 2023.
Sandra Melvin is the CEO of the Institute for the Advancement of Minority Health. The Institute for the Advancement of Minority Health was established in 2019 to reduce health disparities among disadvantaged and underserved minority populations in Mississippi through the development of collaborative partnerships with community stakeholders and the implementation of evidence-based public health interventions with a particular focus on health equity. For more information, visit https://www.minority-institute.org.