Which Alarming Health Concerns You Can (and Can’t) Ignore

Scary medical headlines grab all the attention, but these everyday habits may be more likely to harm you.

By Teresa Dumain
Also in Reader's Digest Magazine December 2013

HEALTH FEAR: Shark attacks at the beach
• WORRY MORE ABOUT: Too much sun

“Tourist Dies of Shark Attack in Hawaii!” “Shark Tooth Pulled from Florida Girl’s Leg!” “East Coast Shark Sightings on the Rise!” These are all real headlines, they ran just weeks apart this past summer, and they likely elicited equal parts fear and fascination. But what are the odds of wading into the ocean and encountering a carnivorous creature? From the attention these stories get from the news, you’d probably guess the chances are pretty good, says Dr. Besser, but the actual odds are lower than you think—much, much lower. Overall, beachgoers have a one in 11.5 million chance of being attacked by a shark, according to the International Shark Attack File, a global database compiled at the Florida Museum of Natural History. And what about dying from a shark bite? Less than one in 264 million.

Now consider that an estimated one in five Americans will develop skin cancer. “That is a much more ever-present risk to the public, yet you’d never see the headline ‘Woman on Beach Spots Suspicious Mole!’ ” says Dr. Besser. This year alone, nearly 77,000 new cases of invasive melanoma, the most dangerous form, will be diagnosed, and more than 9,000 people will die from it. Sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers, so take steps to protect yourself from this very real risk. Slather on a broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB), water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 but preferably 30 or higher (and reapply often). Wear a wide-brimmed hat and wraparound sunglasses (with 99 percent to 100 percent UV absorption). When the sun’s UV rays are most intense (usually between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.), seek shade under an umbrella. And no, a base tan before a beach vacation won’t prevent sunburns—any change in skin color is a sign of UV damage.

Next: Worry about catching a disease from your hands, not the toilet seat »

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