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Family Health History and Your Child

Family eating healthy

Collecting your family's health history can be important for your child's health. You might not realize that your mother’s diabetes or your cousin’s sickle cell disease could affect your child, but this family history information can be important for keeping your child healthy.

Families share genes. Families may also have other things in common, such as exercise habits and the foods they eat. Family members may live in the same area and come into contact with similar things in the environment. Family history includes all of these factors, which can affect health.

Family history can help your child’s doctor make a diagnosis if your child shows signs of a disorder. It can reveal whether your child has an increased risk for a disease. If so, the doctor might suggest screening tests. Many genetic disorders first become obvious in childhood, and knowing about a history of a genetic condition can help find and treat the condition early.

Most people do not think that chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes affect children, but children with a strong family history of these diseases can show signs in childhood. However, having a family history of a disease does not mean that your child will get that disease. Children with a family history of chronic diseases can benefit from developing good lifestyle habits, such as exercising and eating healthy, right away. These habits can benefit the entire family and might help prevent or delay these conditions.

Ways to Collect Your Child’s Family Health History

  • Record the names of your child’s close relatives from both sides of the family: parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews. Include conditions each relative has or had and at what age the conditions were first diagnosed.
  • Use the US Surgeon General's online tool for collecting family histories, called "My Family Health Portrait."
  • Discuss family health history concerns with your child’s doctor. Gather family history information before seeing the doctor, using "My Family Health Portrait." Fill out family history forms carefully. Families considering having another child should share family health history information with the mother's doctor.
  • Update your child’s family health history regularly and share new information with your child’s doctor. Remember that relatives can be newly diagnosed with conditions between doctor's visits.
  • The best way to learn about your family history is to ask questions. Talk at family gatherings and record your family's health information—it could make a difference in your child’s life.

Tools and Resources

Does It Run In the Family? Online Tool
A complementary tool to the Surgeon General’s My Family Health Portrait, Does It Run in the Family? gives the 'why' and 'how' behind collecting the information, tips for talking to family, examples of conditions that can run in the family, and hints for health. It is customizable with personal health stories, photos, and health condition information.

Family Health History
Find more information on family health history, including frequently asked questions, fact sheets, and family history collection tools.

Family Health History e-card
Send a personalized e-card to family and friends encouraging them to collect their family health history.

Family History Tool for Pediatric Providers
The Genetics in Primary Care Institute (GPCI) of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the National Coalition for Health Professional Education in Genetics (NCHPEG), March of Dimes, Genetic Alliance, Partners Healthcare, and Health Resources and Services Administration have developed a free electronic pediatric family history tool.

March of Dimes' News Moms Need Blog: Family Health History
Read about how family health history information is important for your child's health.

Medscape CDC Expert Commentary on Family Health History
As part of the CDC Expert Commentary series on Medscape, this video about "Family History: Use It to Inform Preventive Services for Your Patients" discusses the importance of family health history collection by doctors. Examples using recommendations from the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) show how this information can inform prevention services.

Podcast: Family History - An Early Warning for Your Child
Listen to learn more about how knowing your family history information could benefit your entire family.

Talk Health History Campaign
The Talk Health History Campaign includes family health history public service announcements from the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) and Genetic Alliance.

The Pregnancy & Health Profile: A Risk Assessment & Screening Tool
This tablet-based tool from the National Coalition for Health Professional Education in Genetics  helps prenatal providers and patients identify and discuss risk based on family history.

U.S. Surgeon General’s Family Health History Initiative
The Surgeon General's Family Health History Initiative encourages all American families to learn more about their family health history. They have a web-based tool that helps users organize family history information and then print it out for presentation to their family doctor.