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December 2006 Issue

Melanie Myers, PhD, assistant director of the genetic counseling program.
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Family History Plays a Major Role in Disease Risks

Published December 2006

Knowing your family’s history for certain diseases can make a big difference in your own health, says UC genetics expert Melanie Myers, PhD.

In fact, family history is a key risk factor for many diseases, in-cluding cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. But, says Myers, many people aren’t as informed as they should be about their health history. And, she adds, existing family history resources do not engage communities with low literacy levels.

Myers was awarded a $100,000 grant from the National Human Genome Research Institute of
the National Institutes of Health to develop ways to educate low-literacy populations, including the Appalachian population in the Greater Cincinnati and Dayton metropolitan areas, about the importance of family history.

She will lead a team that will conduct focus groups to determine current mindsets about the
importance of family history. The team will include experts from the UC College of Allied Health Sciences and environmental health department, the human genetics division at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, the area health literacy program at Ohio State University, the Appalachian outreach studies program at Sinclair College in Dayton and six other community organizations.

The team will research what tools already exist to educate low-literacy populations about their health and health history, and will then develop additional resources to improve education about this important topic.

“Because family health history is so important to everyone, we hope the resources we develop will also serve as a model for education and awareness in other communities with low-literacy characteristics,” says Myers, assistant director of the genetic counseling program in UC’s College of Allied Health Sciences.

But it’s not just the general public who should be concerned about health history, she adds.

“We also want to make sure health professionals are working to collect important health history information,” she says. “And once  they have collected it, we want to make sure it’s being put to use to improve health and prevent disease.”

In 2004, the U.S. Surgeon General’s office began its Family Health History Initiative to promote improved knowledge about health history. Their Web-based “My Family Health Portrait” ( will serve as a tool during education sessions throughout the UC health history project.

Local community organizations involved with the UC family health history project include the Urban Appalachian Council and the Lower Price Hill Community School, both in Cincinnati, the Community Center of Volunteers of America, the Dayton Southeast Weed & Seed Initiative, and Life Enrichment Center, all in Dayton, and Brighton Center Inc., in Northern Kentucky.

For more information about the UC family health history project, or to become involved, call Myers at (513) 636-8448 or e-mail

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