Focus Areas

The Center for Health and Social Issues has six areas of prevention: Obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, mental health, cancer, and healthcare access.

Obesity

Obesity is a medical condition that increases your risk of other diseases and health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and certain cancers. Obesity can result from a combination of inherited factors as well as a combination of the environment and personal diet and exercise choices. 

In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight. Of these over 650 million were obese. 39% of adults aged 18 years and over were overweight in 2016, and 13% were obese. Over 340 million children and adolescents aged 5-19 were overweight or obese in 2016. 

Dietary changes, increased physical activity, and behavior changes can help you lose weight. Prescription medications and weight-loss procedures are additional options for treating obesity. If you're concerned about weight-related health problems, ask your doctor about obesity management. Obesity tends to run in families. That's not just because of the genes they share. Family members also tend to share similar eating and activity habits.

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Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), commonly referred to as heart disease describes a range of conditions that affect your heart. Diseases under the heart disease umbrella include blood vessel diseases, such as coronary artery disease; heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias); and heart defects you're born with (congenital heart defects), among others. Cardiovascular disease symptoms may be different for men and women. For instance, men are more likely to have chest pain; women are more likely to have other symptoms along with chest discomfort, such as shortness of breath, nausea and extreme fatigue.

CVDs are the number 1 cause of death globally: more people die each year from CVDs than from any other cause. An estimated 17.9 million people died from CVDs in 2016, representing 31% of all global deaths. Of these deaths, 85% are due to heart attack and stroke. The most important behavioral risk factors of heart disease and stroke are unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, tobacco use and harmful use of alcohol. 

It's important to watch for cardiovascular symptoms and discuss concerns with your doctor. Cardiovascular disease can sometimes be found early with regular evaluations.

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Diabetes (Type 1 & 2)

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high.The body breaks down the carbohydrates you eat into blood sugar that it uses for energy—and insulin is a hormone that the body needs to get glucose from the bloodstream into the cells of the body. There are two main types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. 

In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. 1.25 million Americans have type 1 diabetes and 40,000 people will be diagnosed with it this year. By living a healthy lifestyle filled with exercise and proper diet, you can live a normal life and do everything you set out to do.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes—and it means that your body doesn’t use insulin properly. And while some people can control their blood sugar levels with healthy eating and exercise, others may need medication or insulin to help manage it. 

Long-term complications of diabetes develop gradually. The longer you have diabetes — and the less controlled your blood sugar — the higher the risk of complications. Possible complications include: Cardiovascular disease, Nerve damage, Kidney damage, Eye damage, Foot damage, and Hearing Impairment. Type 1 diabetes can't be prevented. However healthy lifestyle choices can help prevent or treat type 2 diabetes:

  • Eat healthy foods. Choose foods lower in fat and calories and higher in fiber. Focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Strive for variety to prevent boredom.
  • Get more physical activity. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day. Take a brisk daily walk. Ride your bike. Swim laps. If you can't fit in a long workout, break it up into smaller sessions spread throughout the day.
  • Lose excess pounds. If you're overweight, losing even 7 percent of your body weight — for example, 14 pounds (6.4 kilograms) if you weigh 200 pounds (90.7 kilograms) — can reduce the risk of diabetes.

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Mental Health

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental and physical health are equally important components of overall health.  Mental illness, especially depression, increases the risk for many types of physical health problems, particularly long-lasting conditions like stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Similarly, the presence of chronic conditions can increase the risk for mental illness. In the United States, almost half of adults (46.4 percent) will experience a mental illness during their lifetime. 5 percent of adults (18 or older) experience a mental illness in any one year, equivalent to 43.8 million people.

Positive mental health allows people to:

  • Realize their full potential
  • Cope with the stresses of life
  • Work productively
  • Make meaningful contributions to their communities

Ways to maintain positive mental health include:

  • Getting professional help if you need it
  • Connecting with others
  • Staying positive
  • Getting physically active
  • Helping others
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Developing coping skills

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Cancer

The prostate is a small walnut shaped gland in the pelvis of men. It is located next to the bladder and can be examined by getting a digital rectal exam. Prostate cancer is a form of cancer that develops in the prostate gland. It is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths for men in the U.S. About 1 in 9 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. This year, nearly 175,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. As men age, their risk of getting prostate cancer goes up. It is rarely found in men younger than age 40. 

African American men have, by far, the highest incidence of the disease. One in six African American men will get prostate cancer. Men with a family history of prostate cancer also face a higher risk of also developing the disease. Studies show prostate cancer risk may double for heavy smokers. Smoking is also linked to a higher risk of dying from prostate cancer. Obesity (or being very overweight) is known to increase a man's risk of dying from prostate cancer. One way to decrease your risk is to lose weight, and keep it off.

 Doing things that are "heart healthy", will also keep your prostate healthy. Eating right, exercising, watching your weight and not smoking can be good for your health and help you avoid prostate cancer. The prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test and digital rectal examination (DRE) are two tests that are used to screen for prostate cancer. Both are used to detect cancer early.

Colon cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the large intestine (colon). The colon is the final part of the digestive tract. Colon cancer typically affects older adults, though it can happen at any age. Colon cancer usually begins as small, noncancerous (benign) clumps of cells called polyps that form on the inside of the colon. Over time some of these polyps can become colon cancers. If colon cancer develops, many treatments are available to help control it, including surgery, radiation therapy and drug treatments, such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy. Doctors aren't certain what causes most colon cancers.

In general, colon cancer begins when healthy cells in the colon develop changes (mutations) in their DNA. Doctors recommend that people with an average risk of colon cancer consider colon cancer screening around age 50. But people with an increased risk, such as those with a family history of colon cancer, should consider screening sooner. You can take steps to reduce your risk of colon cancer by making changes in your everyday life. Take steps to:           

  • Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. 
  • Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. 
  • Exercise most days of the week. 
  • Maintain a healthy weight. 

Lung cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the lungs. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, among both men and women. Lung cancer claims more lives each year than colon, prostate, ovarian and breast cancers combined. People who smoke have the greatest risk of lung cancer, though lung cancer can also occur in people who have never smoked. Doctors believe smoking causes lung cancer by damaging the cells that line the lungs. When you inhale cigarette smoke, which is full of cancer-causing substances (carcinogens), changes in the lung tissue begin almost immediately. There's no sure way to prevent lung cancer, but you can reduce your risk if you:

  • Don’t smoke
  • Stop smoking
  • Avoid secondhand smoke
  • Test your home for radon 
  • Avoid carcinogens at work 
  • Eat a diet full of fruits and vegetables
  • Exercise most days of the week.

Breast cancer can occur in both men and women, but it's far more common in women. Breast cancer survival rates have increased, and the number of deaths associated with this disease is steadily declining, largely due to factors such as earlier detection, a new personalized approach to treatment and a better understanding of the disease.

Signs and symptoms of breast cancer may include:

  • A breast lump or thickening that feels different from the surrounding tissue.
  • Change in the size, shape or appearance of a breast. Changes to the skin over the breast, such as dimpling.
  •  A newly inverted nipple. 
  • Peeling, scaling, crusting or flaking of the pigmented area of skin surrounding the nipple (areola) or breast skin. 
  • Redness or pitting of the skin over your breast, like the skin of an orange

Making changes in your daily life may help reduce your risk of breast cancer.           

  • Ask your doctor about breast cancer screening. Discuss with your doctor when to begin breast cancer screening exams and tests, such as clinical breast exams and mammograms.
  • Become familiar with your breasts through breast self-exam for breast awareness.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all.
  • Exercise most days of the week. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week. 
  • Limit postmenopausal hormone therapy. Combination hormone therapy may increase the risk of breast cancer. 
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Choose a healthy diet. 

Breast cancer risk reduction for women with a high risk

  • Preventive medications 
  • Preventive surgery

About 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. In 2019, an estimated 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 62,930 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer. About 2,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in men in 2019. A man’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 883.

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Healthcare Access

Access to health care means having the timely use of personal health services to achieve the best health outcomes. Access to health care consists of four components :

  1. Coverage: facilitates entry into the health care system. Uninsured people are less likely to receive medical care and more likely to have poor health status.
  2. Services: Having a usual source of care is associated with adults receiving recommended screening and prevention services.
  3. Timeliness: ability to provide health care when the need is recognized.
  4. Workforce: capable, qualified, culturally competent providers.

Access to healthcare impacts one’s overall physical, social, and mental health status and quality of life. Barriers to health services include:

  • High cost of care
  • Inadequate or no insurance coverage
  • Lack of availability of services
  • Lack of culturally competent care

These barriers to accessing health services lead to:

  • Unmet health needs
  • Delays in receiving appropriate care
  • Inability to get preventive services
  • Financial burdens
  • Preventable hospitalizations

Given that health is tightly linked to income and income is strongly influenced by public policy, economic policy must be viewed as health policy. Policy decisions that affect educational opportunities, housing prospects, and social mobility have important downstream effects on health.

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