This is how many cancer cases are linked to unhealthy diet

Henrietta Strickland
May 24, 2019

When looking at 'suboptimal diets, ' the study found that colorectal cancer had the greatest association at 38.3-percent of preventable diet-related cancer cases in 2015.

Study researcher Fang Fang Zhang, from Tufts University in Boston, and colleagues looked at the dietary intake of American adults covering the period between 2013 and 2016 using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The study titled, "Preventable cancer burden associated with dietary intake in the United States" was published recently in JNCI Cancer Spectrum.

In comparison, alcohol drives between 4- and 6-percent of cases; excessive body weight drives 7- to 8-percent of cases, and low physical activity is behind 2- to 3-percent of new cancer cases. Poor diet is linked with a number of serious and potentially fatal ailments and following a healthy diet has been found to increase longevity and reduce mortality risk.

The study, conducted by the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts, analyzed cancer diagnoses among USA adults from 2015 along with data from two national surveys on Americans' diets to determine how many cases were linked to diets low in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and high in processed sugar, sugary beverages and red meats. The model also included data from the World Cancer Research Fund on the link between diet and cancer. Cancer of the mouth, pharynx, and larynx followed colorectal cancer at a lower 25.9-percent of cases.

The study also found that poor diet was linked with 38% of colorectal cancer cases, and with almost 26% of mouth, pharynx and larynx cancers reported in 2015 in the United States.

Men, middle-aged adults (aged 45 to 64), and black and Hispanic people had the highest rates of diet-associated cancers, compared with other age, gender, or racial/ethnic groups, according to the report. In comparison, mouth, pharynx, and larynx cancer was most associated with low fruit and vegetable intake, and stomach cancer was linked to eating large amounts of processed meat.

"Our results call for nutrition policies to address the US cancer burden" related to diet, for example, by including government-backed, standardized labels for whole grains on foods, and warning labels for processed meats, the authors said.

The researchers note that their model assumed that each dietary factor had an independent effect on cancer risk, and they were not able to account for potential interactions among the dietary factors that may affect cancer risk.

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