Inheriting Healthy Habits

Screenings and smart choices can help keep family history from becoming your destiny

Of all the things we do for our parents on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, simply spending time with them is probably what they cherish most. Just talking with them, and taking the time to listen too, is the most valuable gift. In fact, listening to our parents may be a gift for us as well when it comes to our health. They have struggled with illnesses that we may have inherited, and the things they have learned could benefit us down the road.

“I see multiple conditions that may be passed down, including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease, colon cancer, and breast cancer,” says Jesse B. Scott, MD.

Dr. Scott says he is often asked by patients who are dealing with these conditions if there is anything they can do to help prevent their kids from developing the same disease.

“Genetics can’t be changed,” Scott says. “But lifestyle choices can be. This includes how you eat, exercise, and control weight, and whether or not you smoke. Specifically, for patients with type 2 diabetes, I encourage them to be examples to their children by eating and serving healthy food—primarily low fat, low cholesterol, and no concentrated sweets.”

Dr. Scott also stresses the importance of exercising and maintaining a healthy weight.

“In addition, routine screening for diabetes is also important,” Scott says. “Anyone over the age of 40 should be screened at least every 3 years.  This should begin at an earlier age if there are additional risk factors such as being overweight or sedentary.”

Dr. Scott gives the same advice for parents with a family history of hypertension or coronary artery disease, focusing on four key points:

  • Eat healthy
  • Exercise
  • Control your weight
  • Don’t smoke

For patients with certain types of cancer, Dr. Scott emphasizes the importance of screening for their children.

“For example, with colon cancer, parents who have been diagnosed before the age of 60 should advise their children to get their screening done in their forties, or 10 years younger than the age the parent was first diagnosed,” Scott says. “So if a patient is diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 55, then that patient's children should begin screening at age 45. For someone diagnosed at 47, their children should get screened at age 37.”

Dr. Scott hopes that if his patients get their necessary screenings and make appropriate lifestyle changes, their children will learn by example. Communicating healthy habits to your children is good, but practicing them for yourself is an even better way to help the next generation start on a long path of wellness.