Preventing cancer: promoting a healthy diet and physical activity in childhood

Being overweight can lead to cancer later in life.

Encourage kids to eat a healthy diet and be physically active.

Obesity in adulthood is known to increase risk of several common cancer types such as oesophagus, colorectum, breast in postmenopausal women, endometrium and kidney. Since individual behaviour with regard to food and physical activity is determined early in the life course, the promotion of healthy food and being physically active need to start in childhood.

Physical inactivity is a major contributor to the rise in rates of overweight and obesity in many parts of the world, and independently increases the risk of some cancers.

Maintaining a healthy diet and increasing physical activity is an important approach to cancer control.

General recommendations for healthy lifestyle include:

  • limiting energy intake from fat and shifting fat consumption away from saturated fats to unsaturated fats and towards the elimination of trans-fatty acids;
  • increasing the consumption of fruits and vegetables, and legumes, whole grains and nuts;
  • limiting the intake of free sugars;
  • limiting salt (sodium) consumption from all sources and ensuring that salt is iodized; and
  • being physically active. Try to increase your level of physical activity to at least 30 minutes daily.

Some experts also suggest specific dietary recommendations for cancer prevention are:

  • limiting consumption of Chinese-style fermented salted fish;
  • minimizing exposure to aflatoxins in food; and
  • avoiding consumption of food and drinks that are very hot in temperature.

To enable its citizens to achieve these behavioural changes, policy makers are encouraged to provide an enabling environment which makes fruits and vegetables available and affordable and to provide safe environments for mass transportation, cycling and walking paths. Policy makers should work with all relevant stakeholders including nongovernmental organizations and the private sector to ensure that the environment is conducive to positive behavioural change.

A healthy active childhood is the theme of World Cancer Day 2009.

Related links