Thanksgiving is National Family Health History Day! But what does that mean, and why is it a thing in the first place?

It’s no coincidence that National Family Health History Day falls on Thanksgiving—a day when generations gather together to celebrate their gratitude and heritage. In 2004, the Surgeon General declared Thanksgiving as National Family Health History Day as a reminder to discuss health risks for illnesses known to run in families. Ever since then, National Family Health History Day has been recognized as an official holiday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

How to Celebrate

Although it may be awkward to broach the subject of your family’s health history, being able to share this information with your doctor is an invaluable healthcare tool that can help you and your family know what illnesses and health risks to look out for. 

This is especially important in the age of COVID-19, a time when regular medical checkups have seemed to fall to the wayside. Plus, it’s much easier to learn about your family’s medical history when you’re all together—whether that be virtually or in person. 

One way to approach this topic is to start a conversation about your family’s history in general, then lead into asking specific questions about their medical history. It could also be helpful to let your family know about National Family Health History Day in advance—that way they can come prepared with information about their own medical history.

Questions to Ask

The CDC recommends asking the following questions on National Family Health History Day:

  1. Do you have any chronic diseases, such as heart disease or diabetes, or health conditions, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol?
  2. Have you had any other serious diseases, such as cancer or stroke? What type of cancer?
  3. How old were you when each of these diseases or health conditions was diagnosed? (If your relative doesn’t remember the exact age, knowing the approximate age is still useful.)
  4. What is your family’s ancestry? From what countries or regions did your ancestors come to the United States?
  5. What were the causes and ages of death for relatives who have died?

If you have specific questions and concerns about your family’s medical history, feel free to add your own. 

Tools for Tracking Your Family’s Health HistoryFrom family trees to Google Docs to the Surgeon General’s My Family Health Portrait, there are plenty of tools out there for tracking your family’s medical history. Whatever you choose to go with, we recommend keeping a running document that is easy to update. Don’t forget, MyIR Mobile is also a great tool for keeping track of your family’s immunization records.

Memories tree with picture frames. Insert your photo into template frames. Collage vector illustration