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The Family History Initiative of the U.S. Surgeon General
(Synopsized from the Surgeon General's report at www.hhs.gov/familyhistory)
It is well-known that many diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, can run in families. This is true of even rare diseases such as hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, and sickle cell anemia.
High blood pressure in one generation may occur in the next generation or even skip a generation and reappear. Information on the medical conditions of your parents, grandparents, and other blood relatives can help your doctor predict the disorders for which you may be at risk and take action to keep you and your family healthy.
The U.S. Surgeon General, in cooperation with other agencies1 and 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 understand the importance of family health history for their own lives and to gather whatever information they can.
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.
The Surgeon General has created a new computerized tool that helps make it fun and easy for anyone to create a sophisticated portrait of their family's health. (A paper version of the Family Health Portrait can be used if you don't have computer access at home or simply to begin the process before entering your history on the website; the form is reproduced on the following pages. You can review the entire site and download this form and the tool itself at www.hhs.gov/familyhistory) Note: This form is available in other languages besides English.
This updated version of the tool called My Family Health Portrait is a web-enabled program that runs on any computer connected to the Internet and running an up-to-date version of any major Internet browser. This new version of the tool can be run on computers running any operating system (Windows, Macintosh, Linux, etc.) and does not need to be downloaded to your computer. The Family Health Portrait portion of the website is secure, so others cannot view your information without your permission. No user information is saved on any computer of the U.S. Federal Government.
The Family Health Portrait tool helps users organize family history information to print it out to give to the family doctor. In addition, the tool helps users save their family history information to their own computers to share with other family members.
When you are finished organizing your family history information, the tool will create a graphical representation of your family's generations and the health disorders that may have moved from one generation to the next which you can print out. This graph is a powerful tool for predicting any illnesses for which you should be checked.
If users prefer, they can still download the My Family Health Portrait software (freely available to all users) directly onto their own computers. The downloadable version of the tool can be accessed at: www.hhs.gov/familyhistory/download.html
The fourth National Family History Day was celebrated on Thanksgiving 2007. Over the holiday or at other times when families gather, the Surgeon General encourages Americans to talk about and write down the health problems that seem to run in their families. Learning about their family's health history may help ensure a longer, healthier future together.
For more information on other activities of the Office of the Surgeon General, please visit www.surgeongeneral.gov
A five-minute presentation of the Surgeon General's Family History Initiative press conference can be downloaded at www.hhs.gov/familyhistory/download.html
1 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) are also involved.
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