Know Your Risks

What disease condition is your greatest risk for disability or death? Is it heart disease? Cancer? Stroke? Pneumonia? Not surprisingly, it isn’t the same for everyone.

There are many kinds of risks. People in third world countries are most at risk from infectious disease (think – malaria or AIDS) or violence and starvation (if there is armed conflict – think Somalia or Sudan). First world countries are most at risk from lifestyle choices in diet, exercise, and smoking (think USA or Argentina). Cultural disease risks involve genetic predispositions (think Tay-Sachs disease in Jews; Sickle cell disease in blacks) and specific habit patterns (think salted fish and stomach cancer in Japanese). Socio-economic differences determine affordability of preventive healthcare (think obstetrical care for unwed teenage pregnancies) and life patterns (think coal miners and black lung).

If these cultural or third world country patterns don’t affect you, what should you be watching out for – for yourself and your family? It depends on your age.

For your children less than one year of age, the major risks are genetic defects such as heart deformities, and accidents, especially in the home. Small children are unable to foresee accidents. Watch out for them.

For children from one to ten years of age, the major risks are cancer (think leukemia, renal, and brain tumors) and accidents. There is very little reliable information on prevention for children’s cancers. However, accidents happen on bicycles and playgrounds, and are preventable. Kids are active; parents should be vigilant.

For young people from ten to twenty-five, the major killer is auto accidents. At a time when they are just beginning to gain control of motor skills, just beginning to choose harmful lifestyles (think – alcohol and no seat belts), and just becoming aware that life and speed is risky, they are hurling down highways at tremendous speeds. The combination is deadly. These young people must learn to make appropriate life choices.

For young adults between twenty-five and thirty-five, the major killer is still accidents. Most of these accident involve automobiles, and most are self-inflicted. Learn the lessons of the previous age group; almost all of these deaths are preventable.

Ages thirty-five to fifty-five are probably the riskiest years of life. For middle-aged adults, malignant disease (think – lifestyle causes: dietary, alcohol, overweight, smoking for lung, colon, ovarian, breast cancer) is the greatest risk. However, heart disease and stroke (think – multiple lifestyle choices) are becoming common. Auto accidents (for those who do most of the driving) and AIDS deaths (lifestyle choice) are at their highest levels at this age. Deaths from other lifestyle choices (diabetes, chronic lung disease, cirrhosis) are also increasing.

For those aged fifty-five to seventy-five, deaths from cancer still outpace heart disease and stroke. For both of these risks, the causes are lifestyle related. At this point, it’s the results of lifestyle choices made in the younger years.

For those over seventy-five, the major causes of death include heart disease and stroke, followed closely by chronic lung disease and pneumonia and diabetes.

Lifestyle choices matter. To live as long as possible while remaining as young as possible, make good lifestyle choices.