Updated 27 March 2014

Will family be the death of you?

Looking around the faces at the family gathering, do you see pictures of health or scary warnings?


The influence your family has on your health echoes for years in the choices you make and the problems you may face. Here are some ways that Mom and Dad (and Granny and Grandpa) could be affecting your health.

Health habits

Feel peckish for something sweet even after a big meal? Look back at your early years and the kind of habits that were established in your childhood.

Was your family active together? Was eating fatty or sweet snacks a secret treat you enjoyed with one parent? Whatever your family habits, they will have an impact on what feels normal to you. The good news is that it is possible to change habits, even if reinforced over a lifetime, and create a better legacy for your own kids.


You’ll probably be aware of several conditions that run in your family. If it’s not your own parents, there’ll be a granny or aunt who has the same tendency to diabetes, breast cancer or migraine.

The role of genetics in lifestyle diseases especially, is a growing area of research. Lifestyle changes, however, can make a significant contribution to reducing the risk of some conditions.

Screening is particularly important for various genetic disorders so that families can be prepared for the possibilities. One example of this is retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease that commonly runs in families.

Addictive tendencies

Sharing a dop for Auld Lang Syne with Uncle Albert is a happy family tradition, but could there be signs that alcohol abuse is a real issue in your family?

Research showed actual physical differences in how alcohol affects people with an alcoholic family member compared to those without a family link.

Passive smoking

Living with a smoker is not only a bit smelly, it can be bad for your health – and seriously so. A recent study showed that second-hand smoke increases the risk of problems in people suffering from heart failure.

Passing on germs

Any parent whose child recently started at a playschool will know that crèche syndrome doesn’t only affect the children. Parents are also exposed to all manner of different bugs, and it’s hard not to catch them when you’re constantly in close proximity to your snotty kid.

Affect your sleep patterns

Sharing a bed can be comforting and fun, but it can also have a negative effect on your ability to get a good night’s rest. Snoring is a major disrupter of harmonious bed-sharing – and you can blame your in-laws if your partner sounds like a cheap motorbike. In 70% of cases, snorers have other family members who also snore.

Family violence

It’s impossible to underestimate the effect of violence in a household. Not only can there be physical injury, but the emotional abuse and stress also have a devastating impact, not only on the direct victim, but on everyone else in the house.

(Adele Hamilton, Health24, March 2014)

Read more:

Guide to family health
Shared meals nourish family health
Death in the family


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