Scientific evidence suggests that about one-third of the 565,650 American cancer deaths that were expected to occur in 2008 would be related to obesity, physical inactivity, and nutrition–and thus, could have been prevented. For the majority of Americans who do not use tobacco, dietary choices and physical activity are the most important modifiable determinants of cancer risk, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
In the report, Cancer Facts and Figures 2008, the ACS outlines the four most important recommendations for diet and physical activity for reducing cancer risk. Most of us understand that these are important principles for good health, but that they have a direct effect on cancer risk is an important reminder.
1. Maintain a healthy weight throughout life.
• Balance caloric intake with physical activity.
• Avoid excessive weight gain throughout life.
• Achieve and maintain a healthy weight if currently overweight or obese.
The best way to achieve a healthy body weight is to balance energy intake (food intake) with energy expenditure (metabolism and physical activity). Excess body fat can be reduced by restricting caloric intake and increasing physical activity. Caloric intake can be reduced by decreasing the size of food portions and limiting the intake of high-calorie foods (e.g., those high in fat and refined sugars such as fried foods, cookies, cakes, candy, ice cream, and soft drinks). Such foods should be replaced with more healthy vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and beans.
2. Adopt a physically active lifestyle.
• Adults: Engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity, in addition to usual
activities, on five or more days of the week. Forty-five to 60 minutes of intentional physical activity is
• Children and adolescents: Engage in at least 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical
activity at least five days per week.
Scientific evidence indicates that physical activity may reduce the risk of certain cancers as well as provide other important health benefits. Regular physical activity contributes to the maintenance of a healthy body weight by balancing caloric intake with energy expenditure. Other mechanisms by which physical activity may help to prevent certain cancers may involve both direct and indirect effects.
3. Consume a healthy diet with an emphasis on plant sources.
• Choose foods and beverages in amounts that help achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
• Eat 5 or more servings of a variety of vegetables and fruits each day.
• Choose whole grains in preference to processed (refined) grains.
• Limit consumption of processed and red meats.
Many epidemiologic studies have shown that populations that eat diets high in vegetables and fruits and low in animal fat, meat, and/or calories have reduced risk of some of the most common cancers.
4. If you drink alcoholic beverages, limit consumption.
People who drink alcohol should limit their intake to no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Alcohol consumption is an established cause of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, and breast. For each of these cancers, risk increases substantially with intake of more than two drinks per day.
For the full report and more facts, see Cancer Facts and Figures 2008