By Anna Fletcher
Courier-Times Staff Writer

A two-person research team from Piedmont Community College has been given $4,300 from the N.C. Space Grant program to examine known cancer data for Person and Caswell Counties, which they hope will increase the understanding of cancer and encourage healthy habits in the community.

Anatomy and Physiology instructor Stephen DeSimone and pre-nursing student Amber Rogers will study the cancer rates in relation to other known data for the region, such as socioeconomics, diet and physical activity.

Using their findings, they hope to identify trends, correlations and variations, which they will analyze in a research paper. If the paper gets published by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, DeSimone and Rogers will present it at the American College of Epidemiology’s annual meeting next spring.

“Basically, we’re looking for broad trends in cancer rates,” DeSimone said. “There’s a lot of data out there. There’s a lot of questions to ask.”

Data sources will include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the N.C. Department of Health, DeSimone says, as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Recently, I was thinking about the USDA – their data, and how they regulate food,” he said. “They’ve gone back 67 years and looked at the nutritional content of fruits and vegetables and how that’s changed. And I wonder if the change in nutritional content over the decades has had any kind of impact on cancer rates.”

They’ll also look at economic trends and dietary health, including sugar consumption and obesity – both of which have shot up in recent years, he says.

“Do we have cancer rates that are going up as well?” he asks. “You see young people getting fatter and eating more sugar. Have cancer rates in that segment of the population increased over the decades?”

This concern is especially pertinent in Person County, Rogers says, where dining choices are limited.

“There’s a lot of fast food places and not so many restaurants with good healthy choices, compared to some places like Raleigh or Durham,” she said. “And everything you basically have to drive to. You can’t walk around this town to get anywhere.”

When the county transitioned away from its original position as a farming community, she says, physical activity declined.

“You took out the farming that was physical labor that kept you in shape, and now more people are sitting at desk jobs, and more people are driving to Durham to go to work, or to Research Triangle Park,” she said. “It adds to stress levels too.”

The researchers hope that their findings will encourage local residents to evaluate their health habits and make beneficial changes.

“Maybe it will get people to think more wisely about their choices,” Rogers said. “Whether or not you want that second Whopper.”

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