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The Sydney Morning Herald, November 3, 2010

Cancer is the shiver up our spines
By Paola Totaro

Australians fear cancer more than any other nation on earth but rank the economy and global warming as the greatest challenges facing the country, a new worldwide poll has revealed.

However, the ''war on terrorism'' and climate change are the biggest concerns for the well-being of the world, according to Australians, with poverty tied in with overpopulation coming in a close third.

The results form part of the first Global Index of Fear, a new worldwide poll conducted by the prestigious research university, King's College, London. A total of 7055 people were polled in eight nations last month - Australia, the United States, Britain, Brazil, China, South Africa, India and Saudi Arabia - and asked to identify the greatest challenges and threats facing their own country and the world.

The results revealed enormous differences as well as widely contrasting concerns between nations, but particularly between the populations of developed and emerging countries.

However, the surveys also highlighted some surprising worldwide results that showed, for example, that not one nation polled identified sanitation and infectious disease as a major issue facing the world.

Australians' level of anxiety about cancer was unique, as was our national belief that mental health is one of the greatest challenges facing the country. About 35 per cent of those polled cited psychological health as one of our major issues, an anxiety shared only with the Chinese, although just 15 per cent of those polled ranked it.

Australians were the only people to pick global warming and climate change among the top three domestic concerns. China, Brazil, South Africa and India all ranked the issue one of three top world challenges while Britain (33 per cent) and the US (22 per cent) were the least likely to raise it as a top three world problem.

Only two countries, China (47 per cent) and Brazil (35 per cent), picked pollution as one of the top three domestic challenges.

Gemma Peters, director of development for King's College, said Australians had produced some unique national concerns, both in the level of anxiety about cancer and in ranking mental health as a major national issue.

"We wanted to see what the world is most concerned about, the kind of fears people have both at country level and globally. For Australia, the cancer issue is interesting as it is the only nation to highlight that among its top three concerns. Australia is a country involved in a lot of sport and outdoor activity and we think these results could be due to the big awareness of the dangers of the sun and awareness of the danger of melanoma.''

The polling results, conducted by the Ipsos Mori polling organisation, are due to be unveiled early today at the Foreign Press Association in London. King's College funded the poll as Britain braces for the worst round of austerity measures faced for decades; big universities expect dire reductions in research grants.

When it came to the economy, more Britons (74 per cent) and Americans (82 per cent) picked financial concerns as one of the greatest challenges facing the world. They were followed by Australia (44 per cent) even though it has virtually escaped the credit chaos experienced worldwide. A much lower proportion of people in the emerging economies - Brazil (16 per cent), China (23 per cent) and India (24 per cent) - ranked the economy as one of the greatest world challenges.

Similarly, the war on terrorism is a major fear of many in the US (62 per cent) and Britain (60 per cent); countries such as China (17 per cent) and Brazil (32 per cent) were the least likely to cite this issue as one of the top two or three global or national challenges.

Discrimination against women was low down on the concerns of all the nations polled.

Copyright © 2010 Fairfax Media

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton