Of all the issues explored in this space, none is more important to Anne Arundel residents than their health, especially because cancer is such a terrible problem here. More than 700 countians die of the disease each year, a rate of 205 deaths per 100,000 people -- significantly higher than the rest of Maryland and the nation.
A Johns Hopkins University study suggested several reasons for this, all related to lack of prevention leading specifically to breast and lung cancer, our leading killers. One in four county adults smokes. One in three adolescents has tried tobacco, and one in four high school seniors smokes regularly. Anne Arundel residents eat too much fat. They drink too much. County women don't get mammograms as often as they should. Neither women nor men bother with cancer prevention screenings.
To help change these habits, the Anne Arundel County Department of Health is sponsoring a prevention campaign, "Learn to Live." Paid for with state and federal grants, the program offers useful advice for virtually every resident.
If you smoke, this is your chance to stop. Part of the grant money is being used to reduce the cost of the American Lung Association's "Freedom from Smoking" classes from $80 to $25 through June 30. Individuals, groups and businesses can register by calling the association at 1-800-638-5574. To stop adolescent smoking, the county Board of Education is updating its curriculum to warn children against even trying tobacco products.
Women can call the "Learn to Live" line, 222-7979, for referral for low-cost mammograms and breast and cervical screenings provided by cooperating doctors and health clinics. Free screenings are available to low-income women.
If you don't smoke and are diligent about health care, chances are you can still stand to improve your diet. Seven small local grocery stores will offer programs on how to build a low-risk diet with less fat and more fruits, vegetables and fiber, and the larger chains have their own programs as well.
The grants supporting "Learn to Live" run out June 30. While the county hopes they will be renewed, the only service certain to continue is the women's screenings. Countians should waste no time taking advantage of this opportunity. At least 700 lives a year are at stake.