Cancer group promotes online health assessment

CHAMPAIGN – Weight: In the healthy range.

Diet: Good job for choosing whole grains and fat-free dairy, and eating more fruits and veggies than cheeseburgers.

Exercise: Woefully inadequate since the cold weather took all the fun out of walking around the neighborhood.

So much for my health check-up. Now it's your turn.

The American Cancer Society is urging everyone to take its Great American Health Check Thursday by visiting www. cancer.org/greatamericans.

It takes about five minutes to answer questions about your age, weight, eating and exercise habits. At the end, you get a free, personalized action plan designed to give you the best chance of aging cancer-free.

Each plan advises diet and exercise improvements and lists the cancer screenings you need based on your age, gender and risk factors. And expect some positive reinforcement for the stuff you're doing right.

Example: "You have said you don't smoke. That's great!"

Shayne Squires, regional spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society-Illinois, said the health check has been available for a couple of years to emphasize the important link between cancer and obesity and lack of exercise.

And right after the new year begins is a perfect time to take stock of your habits and commit to making improvements, she said.

Even somebody who works for a cancer-fighting organization has to work at it.

"I really have to think about getting those five fruits and vegetables into me a day," Squires admitted.

What she likes about the health challenge Web site is it gives both simple, direct answers on the health check, plus it offers more information – on healthful eating ideas and ways to get more exercise into every day – for those who want it, she said.

Prevention is the major focus, because lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and losing weight can reduce the risk of cancer by as much as half, according to the cancer society.

This year in Illinois, an estimated 62,480 people will get cancer and 25,680 people are projected to die of cancer. Adopting better health habits and getting the appropriate screenings can prevent a lot of those new cases, the organization says.

What about family history?

Sure, it plays a role, but consider this: One-third of cancer deaths last year were attributed to poor nutrition, obesity and lack of exercise, the American Cancer Society found.

Cancer screenings on a regular basis are also important, because they can help detect certain cancers – such as those of the breast, colon, rectum, cervix, prostate, mouth and skin – in early, most treatable stages. For those cancers caught early, the five-year survival rate is about 86 percent, according to the cancer society.

Squires said the health check is available on the Web site year-round.

"This is to really empower people to take their health into their own hands, to know that eating right and exercise really does have an impact," she said.

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