“An individual’s family health history shapes their clinical care,” she says. This may mean that a person with a strong family history of cancer is being screened more frequently or at a young age. It encourages families to communicate about health issues, even if they no longer live near each other. She says it inspires family members to work on prevention and connect generations as they collect or share information.
One way to get started is with the free online tool My Family Health Portrait, developed by the US Surgeon General. The form can be downloaded, shared with other family members, and updated as new health information becomes available. Kohli suggests appointing a family trustee to keep it. Her institute is working on more tools to train families on how to collect and document health information.
Other resources are also available. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, also part of the Natural Institutes of Health, publishes a free downloadable family reunification guide to kidney health, with tips on kidney health and how it relates to diabetes, high blood pressure, genetics, and living conditions. The guide discusses how to deliver a 15-minute workshop on kidney health and how to talk to family members who may be at risk for kidney disease. The National Kidney Foundation has a one-minute kidney disease test that leads respondents to more information and resources.
“Family reunion is an opportunity to address family history and talk about genetics, but also to reflect on health and incorporate physical activity. [and] says Joseph Vasalotti, MD, chief medical officer of the National Kidney Foundation. “It may be a good opportunity for people and their families to talk about healthy behaviors and also connect with doctors they trust.”
He says sharing a health history is important in order to determine the risk of developing kidney diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Relatives should also be educated if there is a family history of kidney failure or the need for a kidney transplant.
How can you use family gatherings to encourage healthy habits and share health information? Here are five suggestions:
1. Make health fun
When the extended Harper-Hogan family took a cruise a few years ago, relatives planned fitness and healthy eating challenges that encouraged participants to move on or skip dessert. Some family members have organized and attended a fitness training camp for several years. “The thing that impresses me the most about my husband’s family is that they still carried her around, even during almost the time she had Covid,” she says. Kohli, who lives in Washington, D.C., and her sister in California walk “together” while chatting on the phone three times a week.
2. Recruit health advisors and build relationships
The National Institutes of Health Guide to Kidney Health suggests pairing each family member with a healthy “buddy” so the two can check in regularly with each other to offer support and encouragement. Think about who would be most effective as a health mentor, says Kohli. “Maybe with this younger generation, identify the people in the family who play a prominent and important role in the [their] Live,” she says. “My uncle may be more conspicuous to my brother, but my aunt is more conspicuous to me.”