Monday, June 2, 2008

Do you have a Family Health Portrait?

I was reorganizing some of my computer file folders the other day and ran across a file called MyFamilyHistory.htm in my Randy's Ancestry folder. My first thought was "Hmmm, what in the world is that? It's pretty small - has my whole family history been reduced to 22 kb?"

So I clicked on it and a web page titled "My Family Health Portrait" opened up. I remember doing this back in November 2006, and saving it, so I updated it a bit with what I know about my children, myself, my parents, my siblings and my grandparents.

With this data included in my file, I can create a family tree drawing and a family tree chart, both with indications of the diseases that everyone on the tree experienced. I can also add more family members, edit my own health history information (I updated my age and weight), and "manage" diseases that are tracked throughout the family.

Unfortunately, I now realize that I don't know that much about the health history of my grandparents, aunts and uncles. And they are all deceased. I'm going to ask my cousins about the health issues of my Seaver great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts and uncle. My mother was an only child, so I need to delve into the boxes of stuff I have to see if there are records for my mother's parents and grandparents.

The Surgeon General of the United States announced a Family History Initiative two years ago that said:

"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. "

and ...

"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 tool is freely available at the HHS web site You can download a form to your computer at A sample health history portrait drawing and table are at View a sample report (PDF).

This is a useful exercise, and since you can save it to your own computer, it is completely private.

Have you created your own Family Health Portrait? You never know, it may reveal details about your family's health history that can save or prolong your own life.

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