Simple Guidelines Ward Off Deadly Diseases

Major health groups join forces on a prevention plan

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HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, June 15, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Three of the nation's leading health organizations have joined forces to release the first unified set of recommendations on how to avert the nation's deadliest diseases.

The guidelines are aimed at preventing cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke, and experts said that if they're followed carefully, people can lower their risk of getting these diseases by two-thirds.

The recommendations, announced Tuesday by the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and the American Diabetes Association, are intended to make life simpler and healthier for all Americans. Lifestyle changes that lower the risk for one disease, for instance, could cut the risk for them all, they said.

At the same time, the organizations are launching a new public awareness campaign, "Everyday Choices for a Healthier Life," which includes a toll-free number and Web site for consumers. The three-year public education campaign will begin with a series of public service announcements on television, radio, and in print. They are targeted to women aged 30 to 50, who are referred to as the primary "health influencers."

"For the first time in history, these three organizations are merging our power to create a unified message for the public and for health-care providers," Dr. John Seffrin, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society, said at a news briefing Tuesday. "Our message empowers people to make simple lifestyle choices that can significantly reduce cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke risk. This unprecedented collaboration allows us to reach an unprecedented number of people with a message that can lower risk by as much as two-thirds."

Together, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke accounted for nearly two out of three deaths -- almost 1.5 million -- in 2001. They also carry a hefty price tag of $690 billion a year, yet very little is being devoted to prevention.

According to a statement from Dr. Eugene Barrett, president of the American Diabetes Association, prevention accounts for less than 5 percent of total annual health-care expenditures, even while total health-care costs keep soaring.

One key point is that many preventive strategies are the same for all these diseases. "It's important for the American public to realize that obesity, poor diet, lack of physical activity, and tobacco smoke are risk factors that are not unique to cardiovascular disease," said Dr. Augustus O. Grant, president of the American Heart Association. "They are also major players in many cancers and diabetes, and they are still widespread in our country. It is clear to us that the American public has not made the connection between these diseases."

"Everyone associates smoking with cancer, but do you think about cardiovascular disease?" added Dr. Ralph B. Vance, president of the American Cancer Society. "Obesity is always connected with diabetes. However, do you think about the fact that there's an increased incidence of some cancers like esophageal, colon, liver, gall bladder, pancreas, endometrial, and ovarian if you're overweight?"

The messages are aimed not just at health-care providers and the general public, but to public policy makers. "The ultimate conquest of all three of these diseases is as much an issue of public policy today as it is a medical and scientific challenges," Seffrin said.

None of the organizations have actually changed their dietary or lifestyle recommendations. They are simply trying to get the word out that they agree on lifestyle changes and on screening recommendations.

The guidelines include general prevention and screening recommendations, namely: a healthy diet for achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight; being physically active; being a nonsmoker and staying away from tobacco smoke; and discussing with your doctor about any personal health risks you may have.

The specific recommendations for both men and women are:

  • blood pressure measurements every two years starting at age 20;
  • body mass index (BMI) measurements at every regular health-care visit starting at age 20;
  • cholesterol measurements at least every five years starting at age 20;
  • blood glucose levels measurements every three years starting at age 45;
  • and a colorectal screening every one to 10 years, depending on which test your doctor uses, starting at age 50.

In addition, women should have: a clinical breast exam starting at age 20 every three years and, after age 40, every year; a mammography every year starting at 40; and a Pap test every year starting at age 20 and every one to three years after age 30, depending on the particular test used and past results.

And men should have: a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test and a digital rectal exam starting at age 50.

More information

Visit Everyday Choices for more on information on how to prevent these diseases.

SOURCES: June 15, 2004, news conference with Augustus O. Grant, M.D., Ph.D., president, American Heart Association; Ralph B. Vance, M.D., president, American Cancer Society; John Seffrin, CEO, American Cancer Society

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