Genetics and health

* Image source below

Genes are the code that controls the body. We each have thousands of genes carried on 23 pairs of chromosomes in our cells.  Our genes control our eye colour, our hair colour, the size of our feet and hands and much more! Genes are passed on from parents to children. This is why members of the same family share some common characteristics.

We all carry two copies of each gene, one inherited from our father and one from our mother.


Chromosome en

** Image source below

Genetic disorders

Sometimes genes become changed (mutated) so that they do not carry the correct information and this may mean that the body’s cells do not function properly.

These unusual, changed genes may cause disorders and disabilities that are passed on from parents to children; so-called genetic or inherited disorders.

There are several types of inherited, genetic disorder.

Some disabilities and disorders occur when just one gene in the pair is changed (inherited from either the mother or the father) these are called dominant disorders.


In some cases, however, an individual must inherit the changed gene from both the mother and the father for the disorder to occur. These are called recessive disorders. If an individual has just one such changed gene s/he will appear healthy, even though s/he ‘carries’ one changed gene.  Such a person is called a ‘healthy carrier’.

Most people carry at least one changed gene for a recessive disorder, though we tend not to be aware of this as it does not affect our health in any way.

Genetic disorders affect all communities and can cause children to die or have life-long disability. There are thousands of different genetic disorders, however most are very rare.

More information on genetics and health is available at:

A new e-learning resource for midwives and health visitors focused on genetics is available at:


* By Roger Lacerda (Comunidade Vida Missão) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

** Chromosome-es.svg: KES47 (talk)derivative work: KES47 (File:Chromosome-es.svg) [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons