The Thanksgiving dinner conversation that could save your life

WASHINGTON — It’s no secret that some people dread one aspect of the Thanksgiving holiday — and it has nothing to do with overeating all that delicious food.

It’s those uncomfortable and awkward conversations that typically occur at the dinner table surrounded by family and friends.

While there are probably many topics you have learned to avoid at the holiday dinner table, there is one subject that you should discuss — your family’s health history.

Lean Plate Club™ blogger Sally Squires said that the idea is more than a decade old and comes from the U.S. surgeon general who declared Thanksgiving as National Family History Day.

“You can learn a lot about your older relatives through this, but more importantly, you can learn about your family’s medical history and ultimately save lives by identifying diseases that run in families that many family members may not know about,” Squires said.

She noted that starting some of these conversations may not be easy and you may want to enlist the help of a few other relatives. But the benefits of this discussion could be invaluable.

Health experts say that by knowing what medical issues other relatives have had, you can begin to learn more about those conditions and what you can do to prevent from developing them.

Squires said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has created an online tool to help you organize your questions and the information you learn.

Admittedly, it may be tough to bring up these matters as you pass the yams and stuffing because health issues can be very personal and private. So Squires suggested sharing some of your own health information as an ice breaker.

“Maybe you discuss the results of your last physical exam and you share that you’ve discovered you may have pre-diabetes and you want to know if diabetes runs in the family. Or you can share that you’ve been having migraine headaches and you want to know if that runs in the family,” she said.

And Squires noted that the conversation doesn’t necessarily need to happen at the dinner table. There will be many opportunities during the day for the discussion to occur — including during the football games or following dinner when everyone is relaxing after enjoying their meal.

Squires said one tragic example of how important this information can be to your health is the story of the late comedian and Saturday Night Live star Gilda Radner, who died of ovarian cancer.

Squires said Radner didn’t learn until after her own diagnosis that a number of other female family members also had died of ovarian cancer. If doctors had known this information sooner, they may have taken a different approach with Radner.


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