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Preventable Diseases Lifestyle Database

FROM: Robert Johns

What NEED does this meet?
When I was 7, a family friend sadly died of a heart attack. I remember asking my Mum why people had heart attacks and she said that in most cases it was because they didn't eat the right foods, didn't get enough exercise and didn't look after themselves very well. So I asked her what I should eat so that I didn't get a heart attack, and she just shrugged her shoulders and said, I don't really know, just healthy stuff. And so I asked her, was that why Nan was so old, because she looked after herself, at which point she got a bit impatient and said it was time for school.

But that got me thinking, there obviously are quite straightforward reasons why a lot of people get heart attacks and, as I realised when it became clear it wasn't just a star sign, cancer. In fact over the years reading various reports of whole streets of people living near mobile phone masts getting ill, or hotdog sausages being the top of the cancer hitlist of foods to avoid, or simply a chemical in the inside of tin cans causing cancer in young people, I thought hang on, it's all a bit random, why doesn't someone just record all the details of everyone who has these diseases and then see what the most common factors are.

Obviously being only 7 years old, the scale and logistics of such a project didn't occur to me (despite my no doubt precociousness!), but my thought was that if Joe Bloggs, who was a lorry driver and died from a heart attack at 41 was put together with all the other people who died early, and it was found that maybe a significant majority did no exercise whatsoever, whereas maybe James Bloggs who was a lorry driver and did a mere 30 minutes exercise a day lived to 100, there might be a lesson for countless numbers of people.

What is the APPROACH?
What I'm proposing is a database that is filled in by the public, but is only accessed by medical professionals and specially designated people, the people who really have the power to make a difference. It will record as many lifestyle details as is possible, whether it be through specific questions, check boxes etc, or by free text areas. They can then use the information in ways that best serve the community, whether it be through awareness campaigns or legislative changes (eg banning certain ingredients from certain foods, or dangerous chemicals from, say, swimming pools.), or just as a catalyst to further research.

Also, there would be the option for people to put in why they think they or family members became ill, or for old people to say why they think they have lived so long. Two examples to illustrate this: maybe if just two or three of Harold Shipman's patients' relatives had had somewhere to raise their concerns, many more deaths could have been prevented. And if say a significant number of 100 year olds are found to have begun drinking alcohol after the age of 40, that could tell us something else.

What are the BENEFITS to people?
The aims of this would be to make people's lives longer, more pain-free and help to lower the amount of preventable disease that causes so many premature and needless deaths every year. The information from the database could be used in so many positive ways (I'm sure you're thinking of others right now!), and it is feedback that people will believe, a lot more than say a glossy magazine article that says "drink more green tea" then next week says "green tea gives you cancer". If you have cold hard facts that say that, for example, of all the 90+ year olds who drink green tea, 87.5% drink it without food, and of green tea drinkers who develop cancer, 81% drank it to excess (these examples are all totally made up by the way, but I hope they illustrate the point), this is solid evidence that people will respect and heed.

Basically, if an alien came to Earth (or a 7 year old!) and asked why people died of so many preventable things, and we said well, it's just that we never really recorded what it is that people actually do with their lives to make them healthy or not, then I see a bit of a gap in human development that could be filled well here.

What is the COMPETITION?
There are a great number of detailed lifestyle databases out there, mainly created by large companies to know their customers better, tailor products towards them and be more proactive in selling their product or service. Having a database in the way that I am proposing would not necessarily make a company any money or assist them in getting new business, which is where the work of Mysociety fills a gap; getting a project such as this off the ground with the needs of society rather than corporate profit as a focus.

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
I actually think that it will be extremely difficult to implement, although not necessarily as expensive as other ideas. In fact, there is a high chance that after a few years it will turn out not to be feasible and be closed. But what this will have achieved is to get the idea out there, lessons learnt from the first attempt, so that in the long run something akin to what I'm suggesting can be made that really does have some long term benefit. I don't propose an overnight cure for all preventable disease, just the beginnings of what could be one of the biggest life saving tools of the current age.

November 1, 2003 in Health, Use of Statistics, User Created Content | Permalink


Good one. Most preventable diseases have been removed from commercial animal farming by mineral food suplimentation.
ie copper for grey hair
bismuth and antibiotics for gastic ulcers
magnisium for nervousness
selenium for sudden heart attack
The list is very long
There are about 90 essential nutrients, modern crop production emphasises volume and cosmetics rather than quality of nutrition. Food preperation focuses on cost and ease rather than food value.

Posted by: alex at Nov 1, 2003 8:41:58 PM