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Family history is important for health

Family history (parents and siblings) is an important risk factor in the assessment for insurance products. Some factors for determining risk will depend on the disease diagnosed and the age of onset, however, advancements in this field develop rapidly and our approach is constantly evolving.

The World Health Organization describes a risk factor as: Any attribute, characteristic or exposure of an individual that increases the likelihood of developing a disease or injury. Some examples of the more important risk factors are underweight, unsafe sex, high blood pressure, tobacco and alcohol consumption, and unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene.

Risk factors for disease can be reduced by eating a healthy diet, getting enough exercise, and not smoking. Family members often share their environment, lifestyles, and habits, contributing to family history being a risk factor for developing a wide range of diseases, including: heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. Awareness of family history can help reduce risk factors for developing health problems through motivation to make better choices.

Key features of family history that may indicate an increased risk are:

  • Diseases that occur at an earlier age than expected (10 to 20 years before most people get the disease)
  • The same disease in more than one close relative
  • Certain combinations of diseases within a family (for example, heart disease and diabetes)

People with a family history of disease may have the most to gain from lifestyle changes and screening tests, prompting a change in unhealthy behaviors like smoking, inactivity, and poor diet. In many cases, adopting a healthier lifestyle can reduce the risk for diseases. Screening tests (such as mammograms and colorectal cancer screening) can detect diseases like cancer at an early stage, when they are most treatable. Screening tests can also detect disease risk factors like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which can be treated to reduce the chances of getting a disease.

Please note: Bill S‑201 became law on May 4, 2017 and prohibits the use of any genetic test information in underwriting applications for insurance policies. The penalty for breaking the law is a fine of up to $1million and/or imprisonment for up to 5 years.