Beating The Odds

Mitigating health risk is difficult in a world full of trapdoors and sharp edges (think germs, genes, and unhealthy decisions), but it’s not impractical to keep yourself healthy. There are pre-emptive screenings for people at risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and countless other health risks. Being active and eating whole foods can help prevent obesity, which is potentially the most hazardous variable for multi-factorial health concerns. It could be that one check-up — that one vaccine — that saves your life.

Here are a few winning strategies for living a healthier lifestyle, and professional advice to avoid spending your days needle-pricked, in hospitals, or underground.

Cardiovascular Disease

Heart attacks are the bane of those who fear the unknown. They could start with a little jaw pain, some discomfort in your neck, or even indigestion and the overwhelming feeling of “something isn’t right.”

Dr. Waji Mohammed, a physician at St. Mary’s Ohio Valley Heart Care, has noticed a disturbing trend in younger people having heart attacks, and says that most of the time there isn’t a direct marker to trace the cause of an attack. “Cardiovascular issues are multi-factorial,” Mohammed says. “It could be genetically related, poor dieting, bad cholesterol (diabetes could complicate things), smoking, stress, obesity, or any number of things that could increase the likelihood of developing blockages in your arteries.”

Though unexpected, reducing the chance of a heart attack is within your capabilities. “Avoid a sedentary lifestyle,” says Mohammed. “Lay off the couch, ice cream, hamburgers, and fries.” The key is moderation, and knowing the limit when moderation bleeds into excess. The simplest things to do are avoid smoking and be aware of your body (checking cholesterol, etc.). Heart disease can be hereditary, and increase the chance of stroke and other blockages in the body. The key? Get yourself checked out, and be aware of the aftershock of unhealthy lifestyle choices.

But, if the day does come, the most important thing to do is call 911 quickly upon the first signs of an attack.

Pulmonary Disease

Lung disease, unlike cardiovascular problems, has a slimmer range of probable causes, and is focused more around what you breathe. Industrial pollution, work hazards, smoking — they all play a role in putting your lungs at risk.

Dr. Roger Johnson, a pulmonologist at St. Mary’s Medical Center, says that smoking is the biggest contributor to lung disease. According to, smoking may cause chest pain, “smoker’s cough,” upper respiratory infections, emphysema, and heart problems. A Ball State University study shows that 21.2 percent of Hoosiers regularly smoke, which is lower than previous years. “Avoiding secondhand smoke and cessation, or never starting, is the best thing you can do to fight off preventable lung disease,” says Johnson.

Another cause of lung-related crisis is industry. Being aware of what you’re exposed to at work is important, and making sure that if you’re in a factory or a plant that uses chemicals or hazardous materials there is proper ventilation and safety equipment. “It’s all about mitigating risk,” says Johnson, as is the case with most health concerns.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is common for lung disease. Two of its main forms are emphysema and chronic bronchitis, each of which can cause mucus-laden coughs and wheezing, shortness of breath, fatigue, and infections. COPD is a progressive disease, often caused by exposure of toxins and fumes (smoking included).

Another common lung condition is sleep apnea, often the result of obesity, which can also lead to asthma and allergies.


Obesity, like the other health issues, has many contributing factors. “Our actions, genetics, environments, cultural and family traditions — they all interplay,” says Corey Filbert, a registered dietician and nutritionist at St. Mary’s Medical Center.

A body mass index (a range calculated by height and weight) of 30 is obese; 40 or more is considered severely obese. Having a bit of a tummy doesn’t mean you’ll have severely blocked arteries or movement restrictions, but if the problem is too out of hand it could affect your lifestyle. “You may not be able to get on the floor and play with your kids,” Filbert says. “Or you can’t attend an event with your family because the seats aren’t big enough.” When you get in your own way, it’s time to start adjusting your lifestyle.

Our food choices play an overwhelming role in obesity. “People eat when they’re sad, when they’re bored, or when they’re angry,” says Filbert. “But we don’t always eat when we’re hungry.” There are emotional, social, and psychological motivations behind your food choices, and the best thing you can do to curb an unhealthy intake is to be active, eat healthy, and find motivation.

Big risks of obesity are Type 2 Diabetes (a chronic disease that causes a buildup of glucose in the blood), metabolic disease, increased blood pressure, high amounts of bad cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, and sleep apnea.

Pre-diabetes, or developing diabetes, is becoming increasingly common in children born after the year 2000. What’s more, a 20-year study of obesity-associated diseases from the Center for Disease Control has found that hospital discharges for sleep apnea in children aged 6 to 17 has increased by 436 percent. Sleep apnea can lead to fatigue and daytime sleepiness, decreasing the likelihood of developing a healthy exercise routine.

Controlling obesity, a multi-factorial condition and proponent for other diseases and health problems, is a major factor in leading a healthy lifestyle.


According to the American Cancer Society, nearly half of all men and one-third of all women in the U.S. will develop cancer at some point in their life. Fortunately, some cancers are preventable, says Sheila Hauck, executive director of oncology services at St. Mary’s Medical Center, by simply maintaining a healthy body weight, exercising, eating properly, and staying clear of tobacco products. These lifestyle choices aren’t necessarily surprising, but Hauck’s advice goes to show how vital they are in managing preventable health concerns.

Smoking, or the use of tobacco products, opens up a slew of cancerous opportunities. “Smokers are at exponentially increased risk for lung, head and neck, oral, esophageal, and bladder cancers, to name a few,” Hauck says. Inhaling carcinogens damages cells, increasing the likelihood that they’ll mutate and develop into cancer cells. The Tri-State has one of the highest rates of lung cancer in the nation, says Hauck. Melanoma, a type of skin cancer caused by sun exposure, is on the rise. “The number of people consistently overexposing themselves is increasing,” Hauck says. “Over 5 percent of people in Vanderburgh and Warrick Counties have skin cancer and, unfortunately, baking in tanning beds starts as early as junior high.”

Aside from maintaining a healthy diet, not smoking, and avoiding overexposure to the sun, the most useful weapon to fight off cancer is to be checked. Checks are getting more specific, and Hauck recommends visiting for symptomatic guidelines on what to watch out for. Cervical, colon, rectal, breast, testicular, skin, uterine, and prostate cancer can be detected early, allowing the implementation of early treatment. It’s important, says Hauck, to be checked and receive health counseling at a young age. “For example,” she says, “all men over 20 should have health examinations and cancer-related checkups for their thyroid, lymph nodes, head and neck region, and skin.” Women over 20 should receive periodic health examinations and cancer-related checkups for thyroid, cervix, breast, ovaries, head and neck region, and skin, while all men and women over 50 should routinely receive screenings for colon and rectal cancers.

The defense against cancer is the same for the rest of the health concerns: live in moderation, be checked, and stay healthy.

Taking Action

Evansville has taken great strides since the area’s callout in the 2009 Gallup poll that listed the city as the most obese area in the nation (although it’s been argued the survey was inaccurate). When the poll was redone in 2012, Evansville fell of the list.

One of the most active ongoing programs is the Welborn Baptist Foundation’s Upgrade campaign, a coalition of schools, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and local government that aims to encourage individual change. Andrea Hays, director of the campaign, says the goal is to make it easier for community members to make healthy decisions.

“It can be as easy as taking the stairs and burning 10 calories a minute, being provided fresh produce options alongside normal snacks, or having safe-cycling programs,” she says. Upgrade’s signage can be seen in many Evansville businesses, offering guidelines for healthier options. One example is the Walk EVV Map, which provides 27 walking locations around Downtown. The program is designed to encourage activity and healthy eating, such as going for a walk after a whole-foods dinner. “We offer small opportunities that may lead to larger life changes,” says Hays. “The healthiest choice should be the easiest choice.”

Check out the Welborn Baptist Foundation’s Upgrade program at

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