Friday, February 18, 2011

7-Minute Abs: The Science and Sense Behind Our "8 Ways to Stay Healthy and Prevent Cancer"

There is a great scene in the movie There's Something About Mary where the crazy hitchhiker is talking to Ted about his genius new idea - 7-Minute Abs.

"Think about it. You walk into a video store, you see 8-Minute Abs sittin' there, there's 7-Minute Abs right beside it. Which one are you gonna pick, man? "

I often think about this when talking to people about our 8 Ways to Stay Healthy and Prevent Cancer.  I often hear: "Why not 9 ways to prevent cancer?" "Why not 10 ways?"  Wouldn't that be even better?!? The 8 ways can sound so "simple" or "obvious" or "common sense" that it is easy to forget that there is an incredible depth of quality research behind them.

Yes, there are more than 8 things you can do to prevent cancer. But, the 8 ways were selected based on a scientific review of over 30 years of cancer prevention research to identify the biggest contributors to cancer risk and the ones with a strong body of convincing science behind them.

I recently saw an advertisement on a professional networking group I belong to for a seminar on cancer prevention. I was excited - how great that this group is bringing in an expert to talk about health and wellness - something we tend to forget to prioritize in the hustle and bustle of work, family and life. Imagine my disappointment upon clicking over and seeing that the seminar leader had no expertise in this area - no formal education, no experience conducting or reviewing research. This so-called "expert" merely had a laundry list a mile long of factors that prevent cancer - in her opinion. Many of those things have very little (or no) good science behind them. In fact, she listed things that have been shown to be not true.

Here's where I think the harm in this kind of post comes - we are all busy and most of us don't have time to do everything right every day. So we make choices about what to prioritize. If we mislead people about what can and what cannot prevent cancer, we send them down a path of prioritizing something with little or no impact instead of encouraging them to focus on the things where they are most likely to get a return on their investment (be it time or money or both).

That is what our 8 ways are about - identifying the factors that are going to reduce risk of several cancers, where there is a lot of quality science. The other important difference between the 8 ways and the "health tip" laundry lists you might see, is that our 8 ways are based on our evidence-based validated risk assessment tool Your Disease Risk. Again, we're using science to build science.

So while the 8 ways might seem like "simple health tips" they are really evidence-based medicine for prevention.

On the Internet, it's reader beware.  So it pays to take some time to learn how to assess what you're actually reading.  Surely, there are reputable organizations that have slightly different takes on the science than we do, but knowing who these groups are and what their background is helps determine what credence to give them.

For some tips on finding good health information online, see this piece we put together with the Komen Foundation: Using the Internet to Find Health Information.

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