Family history in public health practice: a genomic tool for disease prevention and health promotion

Annu Rev Public Health. 2010;31:69-87 1 p following 87. doi: 10.1146/annurev.publhealth.012809.103621.


Family history is a risk factor for many chronic diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Professional guidelines usually include family history to assess health risk, initiate interventions, and motivate behavioral changes. The advantages of family history over other genomic tools include a lower cost, greater acceptability, and a reflection of shared genetic and environmental factors. However, the utility of family history in public health has been poorly explored. To establish family history as a public health tool, it needs to be evaluated within the ACCE framework (analytical validity; clinical validity; clinical utility; and ethical, legal, and social issues). Currently, private and public organizations are developing tools to collect standardized family histories of many diseases. Their goal is to create family history tools that have decision support capabilities and are compatible with electronic health records. These advances will help realize the potential of family history as a public health tool.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / genetics
  • Chronic Disease
  • Diabetes Mellitus
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Genomics*
  • Health Promotion*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / ethics
  • Mass Screening / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Medical History Taking
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Preventive Medicine
  • Public Health Practice*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Sensitivity and Specificity