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Free iPad app guesses your risk for common diseases

Zuum, developed at Washington University, tells you not only which diseases you might develop but also how best to avoid them.

The Zuum health tracker
Washington University School of Medicine

When it comes to certain diseases -- think heart disease, diabetes, and various cancers -- some basic lifestyle changes are the best preventive medicine.

And while most of us know to eat a balanced diet, exercise, and abstain from smoking, it can be far more motivating to make healthy changes if we also know we're prone to certain diseases.

Enter Zuum, a free new iPad app that estimates your risk of common diseases and personalizes tips to prevent them and improve your overall health.

"We wanted to get the word out about easy changes in behavior that might help people prevent certain diseases," Graham Colditz, a disease prevention expert at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said in a school news release. "We've taken three decades of research and turned it into Zuum, a free app that provides personalized health advice at your fingertips."

The app isn't terribly fancy. You complete a quick questionnaire about lifestyle habits (do you do x and if so how much -- i.e., smoke, exercise, watch TV, etc.), and lists the diseases you may be prone to, specific factors that tend to lead to these diseases, and specific lifestyle changes that could lower your risk.

But probably the app's most effective feature is that it regularly pings your in-box with reminders to stay on task. Sure, this is built-in nagging that some would rather forego, but for others (maybe I'm just speaking for myself), the reminders are good medicine.

Colditz, who developed the app with a team of experts from the communications and design realms, says that while Zuum leans on decades of scientific research, it should not be used in place of a physician's advice, which would of course be even more personalized.

Still, he says he hopes Zuum will provide a "blueprint" for a better quality of life.