(NaturalNews) Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and you are lowering your risk of cancer; consume more processed meats like sausages and bacon and you are raising your chances of getting the disease; exercise regularly and maintain healthy weight and you reduce your risk of malignancy - one would think these are common-sense bits of information which almost everyone "knows" about. Yet, a recent survey in Britain has revealed that reality is quite different, with a worrying proportion of the population oblivious to these basic facts.
Details and Findings of Survey
The said survey was conducted in Jan 2009 and had been commissioned by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF). It involved 1,986 adults, who were asked about various risk factors for cancer. The exercise found that 41% of those surveyed were not aware that consuming a poor diet can elevate cancer risk.
In late 2007, a WCRF report had revealed that a 150g intake of processed meats each day can raise colon cancer risk by about 63%; all it takes to hit this amount is about two sausages and three rashers of bacon. However, the survey found that about 70% were not aware of this link between processed meat and cancer. Further, 44% of those surveyed were not aware that being overweight also increases cancer risk, while 58% were not aware that lack of exercise is another risk booster.
"The scientific evidence is clear that people can reduce their risk of cancer through eating healthily and reducing their intake of things like alcohol and processed meat. But these results show that there are still millions of people in Britain who are unaware of how they can take simple steps to reduce their cancer risk. This means they are not in a position to make informed lifestyle choices," said Lisa Cooney, the head of education at the WCRF.
These statistics are alarming because of two main reasons. Firstly, factors such as being overweight, poor diet and lack of exercise are huge risk raisers not just for cancer, but also for a host of other dangerous diseases.
Further, the proportion of the general population which has these unhealthy habits is high and seems to be on the rise. For example, in 2006, 38% and 24% of adults in England were overweight and obese respectively. In that year, only 32% of men and 42% of women had healthy body weight, down from 1993 figures of 41% and 49% respectively. Obesity in boys increased from 11% in 1995 to 17% in 2006, while the rate in girls went from 12% to 15% in that period.
In addition, children in Scotland ate too much sugar, while adults in England drank too much alcohol. Fortunately, there was reported improvement in exercise rates and reduction in average salt intake.
Awareness on the up, but still needs massive improvement
As far as awareness was concerned, at least there are signs of improvement, albeit a relatively small one. In a similar survey carried out in August 2007, 46% were not aware that poor diet can increase cancer risk (vs 41% in 2009), 53% were not aware of the overweight-cancer link (44% in 2009), while 67% were not aware of the lack-of-exercise-cancer link (58% in 2009).
It is, however, clear that more needs to be done in terms of preventive education. "Our own surveys have also found similar results. Despite substantial evidence that our lifestyles have a big influence over our risk of cancer, we still need to do more to raise awareness of this link," said Henry Scowcroft, the science information manager at Cancer Research UK.
The good news is that people do listen when publicity is given to these issues. A WCRF-commissioned YouGov survey carried out in late 2008, a year after its 2007 report was released, revealed that some people did make dietary and lifestyle changes. This survey had involved 2,124 persons and it found that, after hearing about WCRF's 2007 report findings, 11% tried to reduce their intake of processed meats, 26% tried to consume more fruits and vegetables, 18% tried harder to watch their weight, 18% attempted more exercise, 9% tried to reduce their alcohol intake, while 10% tried to consume less red meat.
Another interesting statistic was the impact on different age groups. The 2008 YouGov survey reported that 37% of those above 55 tried to reduce their processed meat intake, as compared with a mere 6% of those aged 18 to 34. In the recent 2009 survey, those aged 35 to 44 were found to be the most informed, with those aged 18 to 24 being on the opposite end of the scale. These figures imply that more effort needs to be put into educating and convincing young adults.
And while these surveys relate to Britain, it is quite likely that the overall story and trend in the United States and many other countries would not be very different. Education must continue, and hopefully the right information will get out to the general public.