A recent study by the Medical Inspiration Daily for Stronger Society used data from 3,000 individuals to better understand what diseases Americans fear most and what they are doing to combat those fears.

They found lots of fear and little in the way of preventive efforts.

The top five most-feared diseases were:

  • Cancer.
  • Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Heart disease.
  • Stroke.
  • Diabetes.

Fear of change

While these diseases are serious and need to be treated as soon as possible to manage them, many Americans choose not to take steps to avoid them. There are a variety of reasons why someone may avoid getting proper medical care to ensure they are on top of their health, the researchers found.

Corinne Christopherson is a certified life coach in Salt Lake City. She told the Deseret News that a big reason folks may not want to change before or after a daunting medical diagnosis is because they may be too comfortable in their current lifestyle.

“Sometimes people just lack the motivation to make the significant changes to their lifestyle. And the lack of motivation could be that they just don’t really see the benefits of change or they feel like the effort really isn’t worth it. They just aren’t really connected to the value of what that change could offer their lives,” she said.

“Their current behaviors seem more attractive than the idea of changing, so they aren’t motivated to do what’s uncomfortable, right? And we often aren’t, rightly so.”

The society discovered through its research that 28% of Americans are not actively making lifestyle changes that would benefit their health and decrease the likelihood of being diagnosed with a disease.

When asked by the Deseret News how extensive a patient’s cancer is when they finally realize they need a professional’s diagnosis, Michelle Tippetts, an oncology Infusion nurse, said it depended on the population.

“I see a lot of very advanced prostate cancers in men, because men tend to ignore their problems longer than women, I think. You know, you notice a change to like your urinary frequency or your pain and you’re just embarrassed to go check it out,” she said.

Women are more likely to seek medical care than men. Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside, California, found that “men are twice as likely to wait more than two years between doctor visits. ... More than 40% of men don’t go to the doctor at all unless they have a serious issue on their hands.”

Tippetts said it also has a lot to do with the type of cancer diagnosis her patient has.

“It’s interesting, I’d say half of the lung cancer patients I take care of have stopped smoking. And of course, the doctors are going to strongly encourage smoking cessation, like always, and then you’re diagnosed with lung cancer. But there’re still some people who say, ‘Well, if I’m here already what’s the point?’”

She continued, “So I’ve seen 40-year-old men that don’t quit smoking, because it's something that brings them pleasure, relief and even comfort. Cancer is hard enough, so why add another difficult thing by breaking your lifelong habit?”

Health checkups

Having to make substantial changes to your life can be daunting, especially after an earth-shattering diagnosis. Medical professionals encourage individuals to stay up-to-date on medical visits so that lifestyle changes can be more gradual and less drastic.

The researchers said a leading reason people don’t change is due to their lack of medical knowledge.

Amy Matthews is the chief nursing officer at Phelps Hospital in New York. When the Deseret News asked why so many people are not taking checkups seriously, she said that many people are simply not educated on what checkups they need and at what age they should start.

“It should be you’re getting an annual physical every year, your whole life you should be getting your physical. And it really should be your doctor that should be saying, ‘OK, now you’re 40, you need to get a mammogram.’ ‘Forty-five is now the recommendation for colonoscopy.’ People really need help, because you’re right, most people I don’t think know all of this.”

The researchers noted that medical expenses can keep people from getting proper care because they don’t want the financial burdens on them or loved ones. However, most medical procedures from annual checkups to prescriptions and medical devices are covered by health insurance.

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Public health

Public health is constantly promoting new breakthroughs in the medical field and preventive disease efforts. Tippetts, who got her undergraduate degree in public health, said that public health has become much more prevalent in today’s society following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Public health is all about preventing medical problems. It’s about educating the masses on health benefits. We do things to prevent outcomes, right? So I’m gonna wear a mask to prevent the spread of disease. I’m going to get vaccinated, whether people have a good taste about that or not, at least there’s more awareness about it.”

One in four individuals are not taking preventive efforts by making changes in their lifestyle to avoid the disease they fear most, according to the study.

“Coaching helps build awareness, and it provides that emotional support that is needed and can help with some coping skills,” Christopherson said. “Just offering a nonjudgmental space for someone to explore these ideas. I mean, the last thing would probably be just celebrating success and making space for our client to feel like what they’re doing matters and validating their efforts.”

Making healthy choices

As of March 2022, more than 1 billion people are obese worldwide, per World Health Organization.

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Christopherson uses her professional skills at fitness retreats to educate individuals on the benefits of healthy eating and exercise and how best to fit it into their lifestyles. She said it’s difficult for people to change when society pushes an unhealthy agenda on them.

“The world has just made it so convenient to not really try to eat healthy, with fast food restaurants and highly processed foods and snacks that you can just grab on the go. It really does take more effort to want to eat healthy in this country,” she said.

According to the research study, 42% of Americans have a preference for unhealthy and high-fat foods, with 14% having little access to healthy foods.

There is no one-size-fits-all plan. Christopherson said that in order to help an individual in their health efforts, you have to understand why they are or are not willing to change their habits and strive to educate them on the importance of giving health a chance.

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