As many as 2.5 million Canadians could be at risk of developing cancer because they don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables to reap cancer-fighting benefits, don’t exercise enough and don’t keep their weight in check, suggests a new study by Cancer Care Ontario.
And governments should be quick to institute educational campaigns about these preventable deaths, similar to the steps taken in the war against tobacco, authors of the study released said.
“The typical Ontario diet is one where it doesn’t provide optimal nourishment, it’s lower in vegetables and fruit, nor do we have the activity levels that we can maintain good health and reduce or risk of cancer,” said Ontario Cancer Care researcher and dietitian Melody Roberts, who helped create and carry out the Ontario Nutrition and Cancer Prevention Survey.
The survey found that up to 30 per cent of cancers in Ontario could be prevented if Ontarians ate more fruit and vegetables, got more exercise and kept their weight in check.
Another 30 per cent of cancers could be eliminated if smokers quit their habit, the survey said.
It also found that 835,000 Ontario adults – more men than women – didn’t get even the minimum required amount of fruits and vegetables and exercise, and didn’t keep their weight below the healthy body mass index of 25.
Applied across the country, disregarding any variation in eating and exercise habits, that number would amount to more than 2.5 million Canadian adults, suggested Dr. Alan Hudson, CEO of Cancer Care Ontario.
In Ontario, the provincial government currently spends one per cent of its cancer-fighting funds on prevention and screening, the agency said.
“Cancer Care Ontario needs to pay more attention to (prevention), and governments certainly need to pay more attention to it,” said Hudson.
“(Ontario Health Minister George) Smitherman is very keen on the prevention side . . . I’m hopeful that while he’s the minister of health you’re going to see much more emphasis on this side than you have in the past.”
Provinces across the country have been increasing tobacco taxes to offset health-care costs related to tobacco-caused illnesses such as lung cancer, and to dissuade people from buying the lethal product. Bans on tobacco advertising and television commercials about the perils of smoking are also part of the campaign to help people quit.
Similar steps should be taken to convince people that diet and exercise also have a big impact on fighting cancer, said Terry Sullivan, vice-president of research and cancer control at Cancer Care Ontario.
“Fifteen years ago people didn’t think we could do anything about tobacco, and somehow we’ve managed to initiate comprehensive strategies to reduce tobacco consumption,” Sullivan said.
“We have not organized ourselves in a comprehensive strategy with respect to diet, physical activity, healthy body weight and cancer.”
The survey backed its findings by saying cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, pancreas, larynx, lungs and bladder all have “convincing or probable evidence for prevention by vegetable and fruit consumption.” Esophagus, colon, rectum, breast, uterus and kidney cancers seem to be positively affected by maintaining a healthy body weight, and physical activity may combat cancer of the colon, rectum, breast, uterus and prostate.
Health agencies recommend that adults eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day, but 40 per cent of adults fail to consume that minimum, Cancer Care Ontario adds.
The telephone survey, conducted between June 2001 and May 2002, involved 3,183 Ontario residents ages 18 to 64.
Forty-eight per cent of Ontarians surveyed were found to be overweight, with a body mass index of 25 or more. The index – the standard measure for health – is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of their height in metres.
Another 48 per cent of those surveyed said they got less than three hours of physical activity a week, less than the recommended 3.5 hours a week. More residents of northern Ontario than southern Ontario and the Toronto area got the recommended amount of exercise, either at work, doing chores or in their leisure time, the study found.
Only 14 per cent of those surveyed got the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables and exercise and maintained a healthy weight.
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