By Amanda Grayson - Contributor

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Thanksgiving is National Family Health History Day

November 17, 2017

Families are encouraged to share more than a meal on Thanksgiving— the Surgeon General wants everyone to talk about their family health history, too.

Ever since 2004,  the Surgeon General has declared Thanksgiving to be National Family Health History Day. Thanksgiving, or other times when relatives gather, is a good opportunity to talk about any health problems that run in the family.

“We’re often very proud of the things we pass on to our families, such as the color of our eyes or our laugh, but we can also pass on some health tendencies like heart disease, diabetes or certain types of cancers,” says Dr. Mary Braddock, a medical director at Blue Cross. “Tracing your family history can help your doctor predict the disorders for which you may be at risk and take action to keep you and your family healthy.”

We turned to Dr. Braddock for the essentials on how to have these necessary conversations.

Who to talk to

Your parents, your siblings and your children are the most important blood relatives to talk to about your family health history. Dr. Braddock suggests talking to your grandparents and aunts and uncles next.

How to discuss family history

Every family is unique and communicates in ways that work for them. For some, it’s easy to discuss health problems over pumpkin pie. For others, not so much.

“Be very sensitive to your culture and the dynamic within your own family,” insists Dr. Braddock.

That said, there are some ways to gently broach the subject when appropriate.

“Start by asking if anybody in the family lived a really long time. What did they do? What kind of job did they have? What kind of habits did they have? Then ask if anybody lived a really short time and ask what happened to them,” says Dr. Braddock.

What questions to ask

Health care professionals have known for a long time that common diseases including heart disease, diabetes and cancer can run in families. Those are the predispositions to be on the lookout for. Also, keep your eye out for possible risk of sudden death.

In your search for information, here are some questions to ask:

  • What kinds of conditions run in our family?
  • Does anyone in our family have high blood pressure or heart disease?
  • Has anyone in our family had a stroke?
  • Has anyone in our family died suddenly or before the age of 50?

Does anyone in our family have any chronic medical problems?

What to do with your information

Once you’ve gathered your family health history, be sure to write it down. Keep a copy for yourself and give a copy to your physician at your next appointment.

“If you have a predisposition in your family for certain conditions, talk to your doctor about how to modify any risk factors or seek different screens for prevention,” Dr. Braddock says.

My Family Health Portrait is an online tool by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that makes it easy to save and share your family history information.

Learning your family’s health history may help ensure a longer, healthier future together with many Thanksgiving meals to come.

Learning your family’s health history may help ensure a longer, healthier future together with many Thanksgiving meals to come.

Find out more on how to create a family health history on

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