Check your risk of major diseases with new, secure tool

After spending summer weekends at the pool, have you ever wondered about your risk for skin cancer? Ever wondered if your great-grandmother’s diabetes increases your risk for the disease? Now, an easy and secure Internet tool determines your risk with just a few clicks of a mouse: Your Health Snapshot.

Modeled after Your Disease Risk, created by Graham Colditz, M.D., Ph.D., the Niess-Gain Professor of Surgery, professor of medicine and associate director of Prevention and Control at Siteman Cancer Center, Your Health Snapshot is a confidential site that members of the Washington University community can use to determine their risk for various cancers, stroke, heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis and to learn prevention strategies.

To start, users log onto and answer simple questions about their medical history, eating habits, exercise and other behaviors. The result is a personalized estimate of a person’s risk for these diseases.

What sets Your Health Snapshot apart from Your Disease Risk is the addition of a very brief opening questionnaire and the ability to create a personal user account. The 15-20 item opening questionnaire provides a quick overview of a person’s risk of six key diseases and acts as a guide that shows which diseases someone may want to explore further on the site.

The addition of personal user accounts means that users will be able to return to the site and track their results and certain behaviors over time, a function not available on Your Disease Risk.

The University’s Wellness Council has worked with Colditz to create a tool specifically for faculty, staff and students to be used to measure the health of its community. The site’s health information is backed by recent evidence from the medical community to assure that users are up to date.

“Your Health Snapshot should be a great tool for helping people lead healthier lives,” Colditz said. “In addition to being able to find out their risk of diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis, the site offers personalized tips for lowering risks as well as positive feedback on things they’re already doing well.”

Colditz said one of the key features of Your Health Snapshot is its Wellness Lab, which gathers a person’s main health messages into one place.

“The Wellness Lab shows what someone can change to improve his or her health, what he or she is already doing well and what screening tests he or she should have regularly,” he said. “It also has a library of past results and the Health Tracker, which has tools to help people keep track of weight and number of steps walked each day.”

From the data, which will be anonymous, unidentifiable and confidential, the Wellness Council will receive broad-based reports on health risks that groups of employees face. Colditz and a team of health researchers will relay the data to the Wellness Council so the University can better target its wellness initiatives. For example, if rates of exercise are low for the WUSTL community as a whole, the Wellness Council can plan activities to help boost physical activity.

“Some fairly simple changes to how we live can have a huge impact on our health and well being,” Colditz said. “More than half of all cancer and three-quarters of diseases like cardiovascular disease and diabetes could be prevented through healthier lifestyles. Your Health Snapshot offers people a personalized, straightforward and powerful way to identify the changes they can make that will help improve their health and lower their risk for disease.”

WUSTL’s Information Technology team has implemented security measures to ensure that personal information entered into the site is stored in a secure environment accessible with a secure username and password established by the employee. The tool also can be used without creating a username and password; however, a user’s information will not be stored for future reference.

“This is a straightforward tool that’s simple to use,” said Ann Prenatt, vice chancellor for human resources. “It is our hope that members of the University community will use the features of the Web site often to track their progress toward health goals.”