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New Harvard Site To Assess Disease Risk

By Alan J. Tabak, Crimson Staff Writer

Researchers at the Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention (HCCP) hope that a visit to a new website today will keep the doctor away.

On June 28, HCCP—a division of the School of Public Health—launched the website Your Disease Risk, which has interactive tests to assess a person’s risk of acquiring several types of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis and stroke.

The goal of Your Disease Risk is to show people that they can change their behaviors to avert prevalent, life-altering conditions, said HCCP Director Graham A. Colditz in a press release.

And the website has been something of a surprise hit so far.

In its first week of operation, close to 28,000 people visited Your Disease Risk, said Michelle Samplin-Salgado, a spokesperson for the school.

“I don’t think we thought it would be this successful, but we are very pleased,” she said.

According to data compiled by HCCP, 900,000 people in the United States die from heart disease and stroke each year. An additional 550,000 succumb to cancer, and 70,000 are killed by diabetes. There are also 1.5 million new cases of osteoporosis diagnosed each year.

But the data also show that the majority of new cases could be avoided with healthier living. Over 80 percent of cases of heart disease and diabetes, 70 percent of strokes and 50 percent of cancers are preventable with healthy lifestyles, the data show.

“The far-reaching benefits of a healthy lifestyle become apparent as people click through the site and see that a single risk factor can impact their risk of many diseases—something we hope will inspire them to make healthy behavior changes,” wrote Colditz, who was unavailable for further comment.

The website offers nine general tips to avoid all of the conditions it deals with, including maintaining a healthy weight, taking a multivitamin with folate every day and exercising regularly.

In addition, Your Disease Risk posits specific questions for each of the five conditions. The questions were developed by a team of 15 scientists at the School of Public Health.

“Many of them are questions that years of research have shown have an impact on these diseases,” Samplin-Salgado said. “Hopefully these are questions that your physician might also ask.”

Based upon the user’s responses, Your Disease Risk generates a comparison of the person’s risk of acquiring a given condition to that of a typical man or woman of a similar age. The website also offers suggestions on how to further reduce risk based on the user’s responses.

Your Disease Risk is the successor to Your Cancer Risk, which used to be HCCP’s most popular website, according to a press release.

Samplin-Salgado said Your Disease Risk—which includes the elements of Your Cancer Risk—took three years to develop.

Although the diseases addressed on the new website may not seem related, the same healthy behaviors can reduce the risk of acquiring all the conditions, said Samplin-Salgado.

“We expanded the website because a lot of modifiable behaviors for cancer are applicable to the other diseases,” she said.

—Staff writer Alan J. Tabak can be reached at tabak@fas.harvard.edu.

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