Health care professionals have known for a long time that common diseases - heart disease, cancer, and diabetes - and even rare diseases - like hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, and sickle cell anemia - can run in families. If one generation of a family has high blood pressure, it is not unusual for the next generation to have similarly high blood pressure. Tracing the illnesses suffered by your parents, grandparents, and other blood relatives can help your doctor predict the disorders to which you may be at risk and take action to keep you and your family healthy.
To help focus attention on the importance of family history, the U.S. Surgeon General in cooperation with other agencies with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has launched a national public health campaign, called the U.S. Surgeon General's Family History Initiative, to encourage all American families to learn more about their family health history.
In addition to the Office of the Surgeon General, other HHS agencies involved in this project include the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) at the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).
My Family Health Portrait
Americans know that family history is important to health. A recent survey found that 96 percent of Americans believe that knowing their family history is important. Yet, the same survey found that only one-third of Americans have ever tried to gather and write down their family's health history.
Because family health history is such a powerful screening tool, the Surgeon General has created a new computerized tool to help make it fun and easy for anyone to create a sophisticated portrait of their family's health.
This new, revised version of the tool, called "My Family Health Portrait" is a web-enabled program that runs on any computer that's connected to the web and running an up-to-date version of any major Internet browser. The new version of the tools offers numerous advantages over previous versions, which had to be downloaded to the user's computer, but only those running the Microsoft Windows operating system.
The web-based tool helps users organized family history information and then print it out for presentation to the family doctor. In addition, the tool helps users save their family history information to their own computer and even share family history information with other family members. The tool can be accessed at https://familyhistory.hhs.gov/.
If users prefer, they still can download the My Family Health Portrait software directly onto their own computers. The downloadable version of the tool can be accessed at: http://www.hhs.gov/familyhistory/download.html.
The U.S. Surgeon General makes the tool freely available to all users. No user information is saved on any computer of the U.S. federal government. See the Privacy and Security Policy on the tool for more information.
When you are finished organizing your family history information, the tool will create and print out a graphical representation of your family's generations and the health disorders that may have moved from one generation to the next. That is a powerful tool for predicting any illnesses for which you should be checked.
National Family History Day, 2007
Other activities that support the U.S. Surgeon General's Family History Initiative include newly produced educational videos with Francis S. Collins M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Human Genome Research institute, explaining the importance of family health history in primary medical care. The videos, aimed at patients, will be made available through the websites of some 70,000 primary care providers. Other outreach includes public service announcement posters to be distributed through the Centers for Disease Control.
For more information on other activities of the Office of the Surgeon General, please visit www.surgeongeneral.gov.
Last updated: November 15, 2007