The Diseases Americans Fear the Most in 2023 [Study]

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Reviewed by Dr. Drew Sutton, MD

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The Diseases Americans Fear the Most in 2023

We recently carried out a survey of 3,000 Americans to gain insights into the diseases that people fear the most and to determine the extent to which they are adopting proactive measures to prevent these diseases.

Key Findings:

  • Americans are most afraid of cancer (41%).
  • Over 1-in-4 say they are not actively trying to prevent this with lifestyle changes.
  • The majority of Americans blame a lack of motivation for their minimal efforts in
    exercise.
  • The main reason Americans don’t eat healthy is because they prefer high-fat
    foods.
  • 40% admit they knowingly make poor lifestyle choices that may lead to health
    problems in the future.

Diseases Ranked: The 10 Diseases Americans Are Most Fearful of in 2023

#1 Most Feared Disease: Cancer

Why Cancer?

Cancer is a devastating disease that affects millions of people worldwide, and Americans are no exception.

The fear of cancer is pervasive in American society, and for good reason. Cancer can strike anyone, regardless of age, gender, or lifestyle.

The disease can be difficult to diagnose, and treatment options can be limited and expensive. Additionally, cancer can be hereditary, which means that some Americans may fear that they are predisposed to developing the disease.

Furthermore, the effects of cancer on the body can be severe and life-altering, leading to physical, emotional, and financial burdens for both the individual and their loved ones.

#2 Most Feared Disease: Alzheimer’s

Why Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects millions of people in the United States.

There are several reasons why Alzheimer’s is the second most feared disease. Firstly, it is a debilitating condition that gradually erodes a person’s cognitive abilities, leading to memory loss, confusion, and difficulty with daily tasks.

This can significantly impact a person’s independence and quality of life, causing them to become reliant on others for support.

Secondly, there is currently no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and treatments are limited to managing symptoms rather than stopping or reversing the disease’s progression.

This can leave individuals and their families feeling helpless and unsure of how to manage the disease’s effects.

Thirdly, Alzheimer’s disease is often associated with aging, and as the population ages, the prevalence of the disease is expected to rise.

As such, many Americans may fear developing the disease as they age and worry about the impact it may have on their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

#3 Most Feared Disease: Heart Disease

Why Heart Disease?

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, and the fear of its potential effects is common among Americans.

The disease can take many forms, such as coronary artery disease, heart attacks, and heart failure, all of which can be life-threatening.

Americans may be afraid of heart disease because it can develop silently over many years, with no apparent symptoms until it’s too late.

Additionally, heart disease can be caused by a variety of risk factors, including poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels, which can be difficult to control.

Furthermore, the consequences of heart disease can be devastating, with individuals often experiencing a decline in their quality of life and the potential for significant medical expenses.

All of these factors contribute to the fear that many Americans feel when it comes to heart disease, and underscores the importance of preventive measures such as a healthy lifestyle, regular medical checkups, and prompt treatment of any risk factors.

Lifestyle Changes: 28% say they are not actively trying to prevent this with lifestyle changes.

There are several reasons why some people might not actively change their lifestyle.

Firstly, they may lack the motivation to change. Change can be difficult and require effort, and without a strong reason or desire to make a change, some people may not see the point in trying.

Secondly, they may not have the necessary knowledge or resources to make a change. For example, someone may want to eat a healthier diet but not know how to cook healthy meals or have access to fresh, affordable produce.

Thirdly, they may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of making multiple changes at once.

Making small, gradual changes is often more sustainable than attempting to overhaul one’s entire lifestyle all at once.

Finally, some people may be resistant to change due to fear of the unknown or a perceived loss of identity.

For example, someone who identifies as a heavy drinker may be hesitant to give up alcohol, even if they recognize that it is impacting their health negatively.

All of these factors can contribute to a reluctance to make lifestyle changes, and addressing them is key to successfully adopting a healthier lifestyle.

Broken Down By State…

This survey found that Mississippians are the least proactive in trying to prevent a disease they are worried about (which is cancer). Three-quarters admit they do nothing to improve their chances of preventing this disease from developing.

Alabamians were most likely to take action, with 92% saying they are proactive in preventing their most feared disease (Alzheimer’s).

The majority of Americans blame a lack of motivation for their minimal efforts in exercise.

There are several ways people can motivate themselves to exercise when they are feeling a lack of motivation.

First, setting achievable and specific goals can help create a sense of purpose and direction for exercise.

Second, finding a workout buddy or joining a fitness community can provide support, encouragement, and accountability.

Third, mixing up the routine by trying new activities or changing the exercise environment can help prevent boredom and maintain interest.

Fourth, using positive self-talk and focusing on the benefits of exercise, such as increased energy and mood, can help shift the mindset towards a more positive and motivated outlook.

Finally, rewarding oneself after completing a workout, such as with a healthy snack or a relaxing activity, can help create positive associations with exercise and increase motivation in the long run.

The main reason Americans don’t eat healthy is just because they prefer to eat high-fat foods!

40% admit they knowingly make poor lifestyle choices that may lead to health problems in the future.

Other Diseases in the Top 10 Americans Are Most Afraid Of:

Chronic lower respiratory disease

Chronic lower respiratory diseases are a significant health concern in the United States, with conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma affecting millions of people.

There are several reasons why Americans might be afraid of these diseases. Firstly, they can significantly impact a person’s quality of life, leading to breathing difficulties, chronic coughing, and fatigue.

Secondly, these conditions can be life-threatening, particularly for older adults and those with underlying health issues.

Thirdly, chronic respiratory diseases are often caused by factors such as smoking, air pollution, and occupational exposure to chemicals, which can be difficult to control.

As such, Americans may feel a sense of helplessness and fear of developing these diseases, as they may not be able to avoid the environmental or lifestyle factors that contribute to them.

Stroke

Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability in the United States, and there are several reasons why Americans might be afraid of this condition.

Firstly, strokes can cause significant and often permanent damage to the brain, leading to a range of physical and cognitive impairments. These can include difficulty with speech, movement, and memory, which can significantly impact a person’s independence and quality of life.

Secondly, strokes can occur suddenly and without warning, leaving individuals and their loved ones feeling vulnerable and fearful of when the next stroke may occur.

Thirdly, there are several risk factors associated with stroke, including high blood pressure, smoking, and obesity, which can be difficult to manage or control.

This can leave many Americans feeling helpless and afraid of developing a stroke, especially if they have a family history of the condition or other risk factors.

As such, stroke is a condition that can strike fear into the hearts of many Americans, and it is important to raise awareness about the importance of prevention and early intervention to reduce the impact of this devastating condition.

Diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects millions of Americans, and there are several reasons why they might be afraid of this disease.

Firstly, diabetes can significantly impact a person’s quality of life, requiring constant monitoring and management of blood sugar levels, and lifestyle changes such as dietary modifications and increased physical activity.

This can be challenging, both physically and emotionally, and can impact a person’s daily routine and ability to engage in normal activities.

Secondly, if left uncontrolled, diabetes can lead to serious health complications, such as nerve damage, vision loss, kidney damage, and heart disease.

These conditions can be life-threatening and can significantly impact a person’s overall health and well-being.

Thirdly, diabetes is a condition that is often associated with obesity and a sedentary lifestyle, which can lead to feelings of shame or guilt for those who struggle with these issues.

This can make it difficult for people to seek help or support for their condition, leading to a sense of isolation and fear about their future health prospects.

As such, diabetes is a condition that can evoke fear and anxiety in many Americans, and it is important to raise awareness about prevention, early detection, and management to reduce the impact of this disease.

Flu

Americans may be afraid of the flu for several reasons.

Firstly, the flu is a highly contagious respiratory illness that can spread quickly and easily from person to person, making it a significant public health concern.

Secondly, the flu can cause severe symptoms, such as fever, cough, body aches, and fatigue, which can last for several days and leave people feeling extremely unwell.

In some cases, the flu can also lead to more serious complications, such as pneumonia, which can be life-threatening, especially for older adults, young children, and people with weakened immune systems.

Finally, the flu season can be unpredictable, and the virus can mutate and change from year to year, making it challenging for healthcare providers to predict and prevent outbreaks.

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Covid and pneumonia

Americans may be afraid of COVID-19 and pneumonia due to the significant health risks associated with these illnesses.

COVID-19 is a highly infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which spread rapidly throughout the world as from the beginning of March 2020, leading to a global pandemic.

COVID-19 can cause severe respiratory symptoms, such as coughing, fever, and difficulty breathing, and can result in hospitalization and death, especially in older adults and people with underlying health conditions.

Similarly, pneumonia is a lung infection that can also lead to severe respiratory symptoms and complications, such as sepsis, respiratory failure, and even death.

Pneumonia can be caused by a variety of pathogens, including viruses, bacteria, and fungi, and can affect people of all ages, but is more severe in older adults and those with weakened immune systems.

The fear of these illnesses is further compounded by the fact that they can be highly contagious, making it difficult to contain their spread, and by the uncertainty surrounding their long-term health effects.

Kidney disease

Americans may be afraid of kidney disease due to the significant impact it can have on their health and quality of life.

Kidney disease, also known as renal disease, refers to damage or impairment of the kidneys, which are vital organs responsible for filtering waste products from the blood and regulating fluid balance in the body.

Kidney disease can cause a range of symptoms, including fatigue, swelling, difficulty concentrating, and decreased urine output. If left untreated, kidney disease can progress to end-stage renal disease, which requires dialysis or kidney transplant to survive.

Additionally, people with kidney disease are at increased risk of developing other serious health conditions, such as heart disease and stroke.

Kidney disease is also often asymptomatic in its early stages, making it challenging to detect and treat.

This uncertainty, coupled with the potential for serious complications, can contribute to the fear and concern that Americans may have about kidney disease.

Septicemia

Americans may be afraid of septicemia due to the severe and potentially life-threatening nature of this condition.

Septicemia, also known as sepsis, is a severe infection that occurs when bacteria or other pathogens enter the bloodstream and spread throughout the body.

Septicemia can cause a range of symptoms, including fever, rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, and confusion, and can quickly lead to organ failure and death.

In fact, septicemia is one of the leading causes of death in hospitals and can occur in people of all ages, although it is more common in older adults and people with weakened immune systems

Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis

Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis are conditions that occur when the liver is damaged over time, leading to scarring and impaired liver function.

Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis can be caused by a variety of factors, including alcohol abuse, viral hepatitis, and fatty liver disease.

These conditions can cause a range of symptoms, including fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice, and fluid buildup in the legs and abdomen.

In advanced stages, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis can lead to liver failure, which can be life-threatening. Additionally, people with chronic liver disease and cirrhosis are at increased risk of developing liver cancer.

How to Prevent Diseases

Preventing diseases is a key part of maintaining good health for Americans.

There are several ways to help prevent diseases, including maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, practicing good hygiene, and getting regular check-ups and screenings.

Additionally, getting vaccinated against preventable diseases can also help protect against illness.

By taking these steps, Americans can reduce their risk of developing diseases and improve their overall health and well-being.

It is important to remember that while the fear of disease is understandable, it should not completely take over daily life or mental health.

Fear and anxiety can be overwhelming and can negatively impact mental and physical health.

It is important to stay informed about the risks and preventative measures for different diseases, but also to maintain a sense of balance and perspective.

Practicing self-care and seeking support from loved ones or mental health professionals can help manage fear and anxiety around disease.

Ultimately, focusing on preventative measures and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk of disease and promote overall well-being.

Methodology: Survey of 3,000 respondents; March 2023. Additional data from CDC.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Welcome to the Medical Inspiration Daily For Stronger Society (MIDSS). The site is designed to be a repository for instruments that are used to collect data from across the social sciences. Please use the site to discover instruments you can use in your own research.

ABOUT MEDICAL REVIEWER

Drew is a retired ENT doctor who now lives in the Southeastern US. He was a member of the American Academy of Otolaryngology and a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons. He has a bachelor’s degree in Biology and Psychology and an MD degree. He completed his internship in General Surgery and Residency in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and practiced for almost 30 years in all aspects of ENT, including a specialization in disorders of the ear and skull base. Drew is passionate about communicating his clinical experiences and making his knowledge more accessible to the general public by medical writing.
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