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Published November 25, 2012, 11:35 PM

Kiosk helps people create a ‘family health portrait’

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Pixie Sites of Grand Forks has good reasons for being concerned about her health. And they can be traced to her family tree. Her father had heart surgery for a triple bypass at age 60 and died of a massive heart attack at 71. His father died at the same age from the same cause.

By: Pamela Knutson, Forum Communications, INFORUM

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Pixie Sites of Grand Forks has good reasons for being concerned about her health. And they can be traced to her family tree.

Her father had heart surgery for a triple bypass at age 60 and died of a massive heart attack at 71. His father died at the same age from the same cause.

Her father’s siblings also had heart disease.

Cancer runs in her mother’s family.

She understands how heavily genetics influence diseases through generations.

“It’s a little scary,” said Sites, 55, who has been diagnosed with high cholesterol.

In recent years, she had dropped her membership at the Y Family Center and was “feeling tired all the time,” she said.

“Leading a sedentary life, and getting older, I knew I needed to do something.”

Sites is among the first to use a new tool at the Sanny and Jerry Ryan Center for Prevention and Genetics at Choice Health and Fitness, which opened this fall in south Grand Forks.

It’s a kiosk where users input family health history and receive a “family health portrait” to learn about their risk for certain diseases.

Information is organized into a family tree/flow chart, giving the user a clear picture of personal health risks.

The program “gives you recommendations based on your health risk,” she said. “It’s short and concise and goes right to your health issue.

“It’s so easy to use.”

Equipped with this insight, users can make lifestyle and other changes to prevent or help manage these diseases. In some cases, it may help reduce one’s risk.

“I did the family health portrait,” Sites said. “Everyone should do that.

“You can save it to a flash drive or a CD rom, and make additions (later). Oh my gosh, what a nice tool for succeeding generations, for when someone says, ‘What did great-grandpa die of?’

“It’s a really great health tool.”

She also took a risk assessment for breast cancer and osteoporosis.

The biggest advantage of using the program is “knowing what your risks are, genetically, and doing something about them,” she said, “and doing it earlier.”

CHANGING HER LIFESTYLE

Because of her results, Sites decided to make some lifestyle changes – exercising more, watching her diet and taking weekly yoga classes.

She’s an active member of Choice Health and Fitness and the Altru Y Family Center – now consolidated into one membership.

She attends community education classes offered by Altru and is planning to enroll in a cardio fitness class.

Since making these changes, she’s noticed improvements in energy. “I do feel better, just knowing that I’m doing something good for myself.”

Sites has a history of taking her health seriously.

“I do a lot of research and lots of reading,” she said. “I’ve always leaned toward the holistic and homeopathic route. I’m not a big believer in medication.”

She said she has “refused” to take prescription drugs for high cholesterol. She’d rather improve her health through changes to her routine.

“I am determined to reduce my cholesterol,” she said, although she knows that, because of genetic factors, she may not be able to reduce it below a certain level.

She hopes the changes she’s made will “put a dent in it.”

10 questions to ask your family

1. What traits seem to run in our family?

(You don’t have to ask only about health – start with anything from your family’s blue eyes or curly hair to your height and personality – just to get your family talking.)

2. Did our family members have any health problems?

3. How old were our family members when their health problem started or were diagnosed?

4. How old were our family members when they died?

(If you don’t know exact dates, ask about the approximate age at death.)

5. What were the reasons they died?

(Note if the cause of death was unknown.)

6. Were there any pregnancy losses or babies born with birth defects?

7. Where were our family members born?

(Ethnicity can be a risk factor for some health problems.)

8. Did any of our family members smoke? If yes, how much and for how long?

9. What other lifestyle habits did our family members have?

(For example: Did they exercise regularly? Were any overweight or extremely thin? Did any have addictive behaviors?)

10. What types of allergies did our family members have?

(For example: hay fever, food or medication allergies)

Compiled by Pamela Knudson

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