PINELLAS COUNTY - While some might not consider the subject of family health suitable for the Thanksgiving dinner table, the U.S. Surgeon General and the Department of Health and Human Services are asking that Americans take a moment during the holiday to talk about their family health history.
Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona has declared Thanksgiving 2004 to be the first annual National Family History Day, according to a release from the Department of Health and Human Services.
"Whenever families gather, the Surgeon General encourages them to talk about, and to write down, the health problems that seem to run in their family," the release said. "Learning about their family's health history may help ensure a longer future together."
A number of agencies have joined forces with the Surgeon General and the Department of Health and Human Services to sponsor the family health history initiative, including the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the Health Resources and Services Administration, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
"Family history can be an important screening tool for identifying people at risk of disease," according to a release on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Web site, www.cdc.gov. "The public should be encouraged to collect their family histories and share the information with their health professional."
According to a survey by the Health and Human Services Department, 96 percent of Americans believe it is important to know their family health history. However, the survey found that only one-third had tried to gather and record the history of their family's health.
To make recording family health history easier, the Surgeon General has created a new computerized tool - "My Family Health Portrait" - that can be downloaded for free and installed on personal computers. The tool is available at www.hhs.gov/familyhistory/download.html.
Tommy G. Thompson, secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, launched a Family History Initiative on Nov. 8 to support the Surgeon General's efforts.
"With this new family health history tool we are entering the next generation of prevention," Thompson said. "In addition to healthy eating and exercising, we know that technology and research can also prevent and treat disease before disease becomes debilitating. The miracle of the human genome provides new hope for millions of Americans and a new path to health for all of us."
The new family history campaign hopes to help healthcare providers take advantage of new research, such as the Human Genome Project, that make it possible to identify genetic health problems. The campaign also hopes to counteract the growing complexity of health care that is preventing doctors and nurses from spending as much time with patients than in the past.
"Even when a health care professional attempts to collect a family history, patients frequently do not know the details of what diseases run in their families," states a release from the Department of Health and Human Services.
The "My Family Health Portrait" takes users through a series of screens to help them compile information about six common diseases, including heart disease, cancer and diabetes for each family member. Other conditions not on the list also can be added. After all the information is entered into the tool, a graphic print-out is compiled that can be taken to the family healthcare provider to aid them in providing better health care.
A print version of "My Family Health Portrait" can be ordered from the Federal Consumer Information Center. Copies are available in English and in Spanish.
To order by phone: Call 1 (888) 878-3256), Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Ask for department 78 or "My Family Health Portrait." Specify English or Spanish: #645M English: "My Family Health Portrait;" #808M Spanish: "My Family Health Portrait"
To order by mail: write to: "My Family Health Portrait" Pueblo, CO 81009. Specify English or Spanish: #645M English: "My Family Health Portrait;" #808M Spanish: "My Family Health Portrait"