While we've made tremendous progress in treating and preventing cancer over the past half-century, the American Association for Cancer Research's annual report on cancer in America reveals that about half of all cancer deaths are caused by preventable behaviors. What's more, lifestyle choices related to diet and exercise account for almost a third of preventable cancer diagnoses.
We already knew that up to half of all breast cancers are preventable, but this wide-ranging report suggests that — in spite of a drastic reduction in smoking — obesity, poor diet and sedentary lifestyles continue to have deadly consequences.
The Atlantic parses some of the implications of this report:
It would appear, then, that diet and exercise are nearly as important as not smoking when it comes to preventing cancer.
In light of that, it seems strange that this isn't more of a public-health message. Usually the warnings around obesity center on heart disease and diabetes — two scary diseases that are nevertheless far less scary than cancer.
We know that obesity is bad for us, yet Americans continue to get fatter. Would framing obesity as a cancer-causing disease help mitigate Americans' tendency to keep expanding?
It seems unlikely, given that no other dire warnings have been able to stem the obesity epidemic. Then again, there was a time when smoking was so ubiquitous it was impossible to imagine its ever going away.
Until the public health message about diet and exercise becomes stronger, it's a good idea to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, get out and exercise, and avoid processed foods. But you're probably already doing those things already!
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