Health history can be a gift to family members

Dec 22, 2010

Along with egg nog and presents, doctors say families should share their health histories this holiday season.  Health officials say family history is a leading predictor of illnesses and a big gift for loved ones. 

The holidays are probably the only time of year you see your uncle in a goofy reindeer sweater or aunt in blinking light earrings.  It might be the only time you see some relatives at all.  That’s why the holidays are a great opportunity to talk about your family’s medical history, says Dr. Maxine Hayes, State Health Officer for the Department of Health.

“It’s a perfect time, because families get together during the holidays," Hayes says.  "And it’s all about having concern and love for one another and having people in the family live long and healthy lives."

That means asking relatives whether any diseases run in the family and finding out the result of those illnesses.  Hayes says she understands it’s not an easy thing to bring up.    

“I know when I grew up, and I grew up in the South, there was a lot of secrecy in families about illnesses," Hayes says.  "In fact, if there was cancer in the family, it was like a death sentence and no one wanted to talk about it.  Not even to share that information.”

She says things have gotten better since a lot of diseases are now treatable and people have become more interested in health.  If it feels too awkward to simply start asking questions, Hayes suggests using a news story to kick things off.  Maybe even this one.