Holiday health history is important


For many people, the holidays are still in full swing. I sincerely hope that you are having a chance to spend some time with family and friends this season. It doesn’t have to be an extended visit to reap the benefits of friendship.

As the Harvard Women’s Health Watch reported, “Dozens of studies have shown that people who have satisfying relationships with family, friends and their community are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer.”

One Australian study followed nearly 1,500 people for 10 years. It found that those who had a large network of friends outlived those with the fewest friends by 22 percent. That sounds like a good reason to enjoy a little time with your friends.

The same study found that close relationships with children and relatives, in contrast, had almost no effect on longevity. I tend to disagree with that statement, since I consider most of my own family to be true friends, no matter their age or relationship.

Family is important, no matter what. Family history is even more important. One site notes 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 even tried to gather and write down their family’s health history.”

The Surgeon General has stepped in to help make sharing family health history fun and easy for anyone to create their own holiday portrait – of their family’s health. You can connect to and begin there. In fact, each year since 2004, the Surgeon General has named Thanksgiving as Family History Day. There are other sites available, as well, such as the American Medical Association at, or simply search “family health history”.

It’s easy to begin the process on your own, too. Simply draw a family tree and note information about you and each of your relatives in the boxes. You should already have a Personal Health Record for yourself and your immediately family. This record doesn’t need to be as detailed, but should include the specific ages of when individual members developed health problems such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, dementia, depression, etc. If family members are deceased, record when and how they died. You should also note lifestyle information as well, such as diet, exercise, smoking, and alcohol use. No judgment here, just the facts that may help you or your family in their own health journey.

Remember that is simply a tool, and don’t fret if you discover some health problems that run in the family. Your genes are what they are, but you can change your habits to help increase your chances of a healthy future. After all, New Year’s Resolutions are just around the corner. Speak with your doctor about any concerns you may have and follow his/her advice for screening tests or lifestyle changes so that you and your family may enjoy many more Happy Holidays. As always, Be Safe Out There.

Shelly Butts is Emergency Management coordinator for Madison County.