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Family Health History

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Family health history is often called the first genetic test. Among other things, it is an accessible tool that does the following:

  • Captures information on heredity, diet, and environment in one resource

  • Identifies trends and patterns of disease that may lead to treatment or prevention

  • Increases health and genetics knowledge for the individual as well as the whole family

Family health history tells more than just what diseases run in a family. It includes information about where the family has lived and what kind of work and activities they do. This tool can help families and physicians alike see potential health risks and plan a course of action. Healthcare providers play an essential role in helping individuals and families understand these risks, develop plans for prevention, and make healthy choices.

Family Health History Programs: Past and Present

For more than 15 years, Genetic Alliance has spearheaded an effort to promote family health history awareness and discussion both in communities and the healthcare setting. Genetic Alliance partners with diverse communities—including disease-specific organizations, federally-funded health centers, universities, advocacy organizations, community-based groups, and others—to create tailored family health history tools. Our work shows that accessible tools produced by the community, for the community, can promote conversations about health within the family and with healthcare providers; translate knowledge of family health history into healthy choices; and increase community involvement in health education.

Does It Run in the Family?

The Does It Run in the Family? toolkit includes two complementary booklets, “A Guide to Family Health History” and “A Guide to Genetics and Health.” The first booklet describes the importance of family health history and the ways your genes affect your health. It details the information that individuals should collect when compiling a health history and offers tips for asking family members about their health. It also explains how to organize the information to share with family members and healthcare providers. The second booklet goes more in-depth into the role genetics plays in your health, explaining why some diseases run in families and why it is so important for a physician to be aware of a patient's family health history. The online version of the toolkit allows users to customize the booklets for their family, organization, or community to help start conversations about health. Visit www.familyhealthhistory.org or email info (at) geneticalliance (dot) org to customize your own Does It Run in the Family? toolkit. 

Dozens of organizations customized the toolkit as part of the Community Centered Family Health History and Family Health History Integration into Federally-Funded Health Centers projects described below. In the community setting, partners worked with local churches, gyms, schools, and other groups to facilitate multigenerational conversations about health and emphasize the value of different types of caregivers, such as families, community-based organizations, and support groups. In the clinical setting, community health centers used various models – including projects led by nurses, case managers, and health educators – to increase collection and use of family health history information by providers and staff. Visit www.familyhealthistory.org for more information on the Does It Run in the Family? toolkit. Click the following links to download the Spanish versions of "A Guide to Family Health History" and "A Guide to Genetics and Health."

Online Family Health History Campaign

In 2004, the US Surgeon General declared Thanksgiving to be National Family Health History Day. Each November, Genetic Alliance’s Genes in Life program engages in an online campaign through email and social media to educate people on the benefits of family health history. This campaign is driven through Twitter, using @GeneticAlliance and @GenesInLife, our Weekly Bulletin, and an online E-Card release. The campaign encourages people to order free “A Guide to Family Health History” booklets through www.genesinlife.org and guides individuals and families to discuss their health history during Thanksgiving.

In November of 2013, 1,800 booklets were delivered. We surpassed this number in November of 2014, shipping over 2,600 booklets. Over the last year, Genetic Alliance has shipped 13,000 booklets to individuals and communities, in 45 different States, as well as Canada and the United Kingdom. A map of destinations for the booklets is below: