|New Family Health History Projects Focus on
Alaska Native, Appalachian Communities
Acting Surgeon General Urges Americans to Know Their Family
Washington — As part of the effort to educate
all Americans about the importance of knowing their family health
histories, Acting Surgeon General Kenneth P. Moritsugu, M.D., M.P.H.,
today announced two new outreach projects involving Alaska Native
and urban Appalachian communities.
"This Thanksgiving, we will celebrate the third annual National
Family History Day. As families across the nation come together
to relax and give thanks, it's an ideal time for each of us to
start learning more about our family health history," Dr. Moritsugu
said. "This is not just knowledge for knowledge's sake. Knowing
your family health history can save your life, as well as the lives
of those you love."
Many diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, can
run in families. Health care professionals can use your family
health history to help predict the disorders for which you may
be at risk. Such information can help health care professionals
develop more individualized strategies for keeping you and your
"Gathering your family health history really is the first step
towards personalized medicine," said Francis S. Collins, M.D.,
Ph.D., director of the National Human Genome Research Institute
(NHGRI), part of the National Institutes of Health. "We are working
on technology that will enable doctors to quickly read your genome
and devise personalized health strategies based on your unique
genetic blueprint. But we aren't quite there yet. So, in the meantime,
the best approach is to give your doctor as much information as
possible about your family's health history."
To make it easier to compile a family health history, the Office
of the Surgeon General has created a free, Web-based tool that
organizes family health information into a printout that people
can take to health care professionals to help determine whether
they are at higher risk for disease. The recently redesigned tool, "My
Family Health Portrait," is available in English and in Spanish
"My Family Health Portrait" tool is Web-based, which allows it
to be operated on all computers with Internet access running any
of several standard browsers, regardless of the computer's operating
system. All personal information entered into the program resides
on the user's computer only. No information is available to the
federal government or any other agency.
Since the Surgeon General's Family Health Initiative began in
November 2004, more than 1 million users have accessed the Web-based
version or downloaded copies of the "My Family Health Portrait" tool
from the HHS Web site. In addition, more than 100,000 printed copies
of the tool have been distributed nationwide. Department of Health
and Human Service agencies that are partnering with the Surgeon
General in the family history public health campaign are: NIH-NHGRI,
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Health
Resources and Services Administration and the Agency for Healthcare
Research and Quality.
Building upon the foundation laid by the Surgeon General's Family
History Initiative, NHGRI today named two new Family History demonstration
projects - focused on Alaska Native and urban Appalachian populations.
The one-year projects, each of which will receive $100,000, will
develop community-based models to increase awareness among the
public and health care professionals about the value of family
history information in promoting health and preventing disease.
In the first project, a multi-institution team will work with
Appalachian populations living in the greater Cincinnati metropolitan
area, which encompasses southwestern Ohio and northern Kentucky,
and in the Dayton, Ohio metropolitan area. A major goal of the
project is to develop ways of educating people with low levels
of literacy about the importance of family health history. Another
goal will be to raise awareness among health care professionals
working in the targeted areas about the need to collect family
health information. The team will be led by Melanie Myers, Ph.D.,
assistant director of the Genetic Counseling Program at the University
of Cincinnati. Other collaborators include the Cincinnati Children's
Hospital Medical Center, The Appalachian Outreach Studies Program
at Sinclair College in Dayton, the Area Health Literacy Program
at Ohio State University and six local community organizations.
The community organizations are Brighton Community Center in Newport,
Ky.; Lower Price Hill Community School and Urban Appalachian Council,
both in Cincinnati; Life Enrichment Center, Sunrise Center Weed
and Seed Initiative and Volunteers of Greater Ohio, all in Dayton.
The second project will be led by Ruth Etzel, M.D., at the Southcentral
Foundation, which is an Alaska Native health care organization
located in Anchorage. The primary goal of this effort will be to
develop tools and methods for creating a common understanding about
the role and importance of family health history among Southcentral
Foundation's staff. The foundation employs more than 1,300 people,
of which more than half are Alaska Natives. This project will receive
co-funding from NHGRI and the NIH's National Center on Minority
Health and Health Disparities.
"We are excited about the potential of these projects to expand
the reach and impact of the Surgeon General's Family Health Initiative.
We look forward to working with these communities to achieve their
goals, as well as to sharing their models with other communities
and populations across the country," said Vence Bonham, J.D., chief
of NHGRI's Education and Community Involvement Branch, which administers
The new projects will expand upon what is being learned in NHGRI's
Family History demonstration project at Brigham and Women's Hospital
in Boston. That effort, launched in November 2005, has been encouraging
and evaluating the voluntary use of the Surgeon General's "My Family
Health Portrait" tool among the hospital's more than 12,000 employees.
The workforce of the 747-bed hospital includes physicians, nurses,
administrative, service and management staff. This month, the Brigham
and Women's Family History Project is expanding to include non-employee
patients and their families. The project's website, http://www.brighamandwomens.org/familyhistory,
will post results of the yearlong project as they become available
after the conclusion of the employee survey on Nov. 30.
The CDC is funding the state health departments in Utah, Oregon,
Minnesota and Michigan to incorporate genomics into their health
promotion and disease prevention activities. All four states are
tying activities to the Surgeon General's initiative to increase
awareness about family history among health providers and the general
public. This month in Michigan, the Oakwood Health Systems will
distribute family history information to all of its employees during
a period of open-enrollment for benefits. In addition, Oakwood
will distribute bookmarks with information on the Surgeon General's
family history tool with personnel paychecks and set up a booth
on genomics and family history in the hospital. Oregon is launching
a project with federally qualified health centers to learn about
how family health history is being used by the providers in these
The goal of the project is to determine what resources and technical
assistance will be needed to support providers in using family
history to identify patients at risk for chronic diseases and motivate
them to make lifestyle changes.
The Utah genomics program has produced an award-winning multimedia
project,"Make Family Health History A Tradition," to raise public
awareness about the importance of family history. Utah is in a
unique position to tie their efforts with their population's strong
interest in genealogy. This year, the state health department is
sponsoring a "Tell Us Your Story" contest that encourages families
to order Utah's family history materials, learn about their family
histories over holidays and submit their stories for a prize. Minnesota
has developed a number of facts sheets about chronic diseases in
which family history plays a major role. These fact sheets will
be used this month in family history campaigns in hospitals across
Minnesota and at the state health department.
Additionally, Minnesota and Michigan have begun to incorporate
family history risk assessment into their WISEWOMAN programs. WISEWOMAN
is a federally funded initiative to identify underserved women
at risk of cardiovascular disease, counsel them about diet and
exercise, and refer them for further risk factor screening and
follow-up care. All of the four states are promoting "My Family
Health Portrait" as an easy to use tool for organizing family health
In addition to the Web-based tool, printable, PDF versions and
other resources related to the Surgeon General's Family Health
Initiative are available at http://www.hhs.gov/familyhistory.
New materials for 2006 include a printable PDF brochure entitled "Before
You Start" and a redesigned, user-friendly PDF version of the tool,
both of which are available in English and Spanish. Other new additions
include links to printable PDF versions of the tool in Chinese,
Polish, Portuguese and French, which were produced by translators
with the Brigham and Women's Family History project.
NHGRI is one of the 27 institutes and centers at the NIH,
an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
Additional information about NHGRI can be found at its Web site, www.genome.gov.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's
Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and
Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting
and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research,
and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both
common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and
its programs, visit www.nih.gov.