Bad eating habits associated with PREVENTABLE cancer burden among American adults
12/06/2019 // Darnel Fernandez // Views

People often consider their diets when they're looking to become healthy. Eating healthily is one of the best methods you can do to prevent and control diseases, as well as help manage weight. Now, recent research suggests that eating too much of some foods and not enough of others could contribute to developing preventable cancers.

A study published in the journal JNCI Cancer Spectrum identified and estimated the number, type and proportion of specific cancers associated with the over or underconsumption of certain foods and sugar-sweetened beverages among American adults. The research team found that more than 80,000 invasive cancers in 2015 could be linked to dietary-related reasons, which accounts for 5.2 percent of all cancers in the U.S. that year. These rates were comparable to other cancer risks like alcohol, which is around five percent. Also, being overweight or obese accounted for up to eight percent of cancers, while a sedentary lifestyle was liked to only three percent.

“Diet is an important risk factor for cancer that is amenable to intervention,” the researchers wrote. “Estimating the cancer burden associated with diet informs evidence-based priorities for nutrition policies to reduce cancer burden in the United States.”

Watch what you eat to keep cancer in check

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S., losing only to heart disease. In 2018, cancer experts estimated that more than 1.7 million Americans were newly diagnosed with a variety of cancers, and around 600,000 would die from their disease. The link between poor dietary habits and cancer risk have long been recognized, but this study is one of the few that focuses on modifiable risk factors for cancer in association with food intake in the United States. (Related: Vegetarian diet reduces cancer risk by up to 43% in new study.)


To get a rough estimate of the cancer burden associated with suboptimal diets, a research team led by first author Fang Fang Zhang from Tufts University analyzed data from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) Third Expert Report. They primarily focused on the risk estimates of diet and cancer relations that are based on analyses of cohort studies.

From the data gathered from the report, the researchers saw convincing evidence that the consumption of certain foods could affect your preventable cancer risk. For example, low consumption of whole grain and dairy and high amounts of processed and red meat could affect your risk of colorectal cancer. Having low consumption of healthy fruits and vegetables could lead to increased risk of mouth, larynx, and pharynx cancer. Processed meat consumption could also increase stomach cancer risk. Furthermore, the researchers noted that they included sugar-sweetened beverages in the study due to its association with obesity and a few types of cancers.

According to the researchers, colorectal cancer made up the largest number of cancer cases associated with dietary reasons, taking 38.3 percent of all cancer cases. The second highest, cancer of the mouth, pharynx, and larynx only accounted for 29.5 percent of all cases. Only 16 percent of diet-associated cancer cases could be linked to obesity.

Of all the foods analyzed, the researchers found that not eating enough whole grains was linked to the largest number and proportion of cancer cases. After low grain intake, the next greatest links, in order, were low dairy, high processed meat, low vegetable and fruit, high red meat, and high intake of sugar-sweetened beverages.

"Our findings underscore the opportunity to reduce cancer burden and disparities in the United States by improving food intake," said Zhang, a cancer and nutrition researcher.

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