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Experts: Family Tree May Be Key to Your Health

Your family tree might be more than the key to your identity – state officials say it can also be a key to your health. The Missouri Department of Health and Governor Matt Blunt have declared November “Family Health History Month.” KSMU’s Brett Moser reports.
With families gathering during the Thanksgiving holiday, time is often spent reminiscing over family memories in between the turkey dinner and watching football on TV. But more importantly, health experts stress that this time with family is a perfect opportunity to record family health information.
Genetics counselor Rita Snavely at St. John’s Hospital primarily works with cancer patients who have a genetic predisposition. She says it’s important for families to chart these chronic medical risks for the present as well as the future. Snavely says, "Any health concerns in your family, whether it's diabetes, cancer, hypertension, are very important for your family doctor to know so they can look ahead and take preventive measures."
Snavely says that any well-documented family health history should include going back at least three generations on both sides of the family tree. Instances of conditions such as heart disease and cancer should be recorded, as well as family members with any genetic disorders such as hemophilia and sickle cell anemia.
Susan Graves, Associate Director of Medicine at the Cox Health Family Care Center, says that focusing on each member’s lifestyle choices can help families make important health choices today. Graves says, "It may motivate families to make some lifestyle changes such as eating healthier or becoming more active. It can help those families be screened and detect illness as early as possible."
Graves points out that families should see these choices as major health changes, not simply a temporary diet.
According to the Missouri Department of Health, the documented health history should be given to all health care providers as a part of a patient’s permanent medical file.
For KSMU News, I’m Brett Moser.
For help creating your own family health history, visit the Family Health section on the Missouri Department of Health's website at http://www.dhss.mo.gov/FamilyHistory/.