As families gather around their tables to partake in turkey, stuffing and yams, the federal government is encouraging Americans to map out how health issues have defined their ancestry.
Thanksgiving is National Family Health History Day, or at least it has been since 2004, when the U.S. surgeon general first issued the decree. The goal is to spur people to talk about what health problems run in their family and what they can do to combat them. This year, people can go online and create a “family health tree” at familyhistory.hhs.gov. The site includes disease risk calculators that can give people a sense of how likely it is they'll develop hereditary diseases such as diabetes or colorectal cancer. The Office of the Surgeon General ensures all information remains private and is not shared.
That same office remains without a permanent leader confirmed by the Senate. Dr. Boris Lushniak has served as acting surgeon general since July 2013, when Dr. Regina Benjamin resigned. The process to confirm President Barack Obama's nominee has been stuck in political purgatory since then.
A year ago, Obama nominated Dr. Vivek Murthy for the post. Although the surgeon general holds little formal power, the position requires Senate confirmation. But the Obama administration has faced strong Republican opposition to Murthy, a Yale-trained internal medicine physician who practices at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
Republicans and some Democrats have criticized Murthy for supporting gun control. Murthy previously has argued that guns are a healthcare issue because they put lives at risk. But he promised that as surgeon general, he would take no action on the gun issue.