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ACS: Community involvement key to cancer prevention

Monday January 16, 2012
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Updated guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention from the American Cancer Society stress the importance of creating social and physical environments that support healthy behaviors.

The report includes updated recommendations for individual choices regarding diet and physical activity patterns, but emphasizes that those choices occur within a community context that can either help or hinder healthy behaviors.

The updated guidelines include recommendations for community action to accompany the four major recommendations for individual choices to reduce cancer risk, noting that a supportive social and physical environment is indispensable if all Americans are to have genuine opportunities to choose and maintain healthy behaviors.

The American Cancer Society publishes its "Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention" to serve as a foundation for its communication, policy, and community strategies and, ultimately, to affect dietary and physical activity patterns among Americans. The guidelines, published about every five years, are developed by a national panel of experts in cancer research, prevention, epidemiology, public health and policy, and reflect the most current scientific evidence related to dietary and activity patterns and cancer risk. The previous update was in 2006.

The guidelines include four major recommendations, each of which includes several supporting recommendations.

1. Achieve and maintain a healthy weight throughout life

Be as lean as possible throughout life without being underweight.

Avoid excess weight gain at all ages. For those who are overweight or obese, losing even a small amount of weight has health benefits and is a good place to start.

Engage in regular physical activity and limit consumption of high-calorie foods and beverages as key strategies for maintaining a healthy weight.

2. Adopt a physically active lifestyle

Adults should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week, or an equivalent combination, preferably spread throughout the week.

Children and adolescents should engage in at least one hour of moderate- or vigorous-intensity activity each day, with vigorous-intensity activity occurring at least three days a week.

Limit sedentary behavior such as sitting, lying down and watching television and other forms of screen-based entertainment.

Doing some physical activity above usual activities, no matter what one's level of activity, can have many health benefits.

3. Consume a healthy diet, with an emphasis on plant foods

Choose foods and beverages in amounts that help achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Limit consumption of processed meat and red meat.

Eat at least 2.5 cups of vegetables and fruits each day.

Choose whole grains instead of refined grain products.

4. If you drink alcoholic beverages, limit consumption.

Consume no more than one drink per day for women or two per day for men.

The tobacco control experience in the U.S. showed that policy and environmental changes at national, state and local levels are critical to achieving changes in individual behavior, according to the report's authors. They said similar purposeful changes in public policy and in the community environment are required to help individuals maintain a healthy body weight and remain physically active throughout life.

In that vein, the guidelines also include recommendations for community action: Public, private, and community organizations should work collaboratively at national, state and local levels to 1) implement policy and environmental changes that increase access to affordable, healthy foods in communities, worksites and schools, and decrease access to and marketing of foods and beverages of low nutritional value, particularly to youth; and 2) provide safe, enjoyable and accessible environments for physical activity in schools and worksites, and for transportation and recreation in communities.

"Our guidelines have always stressed what people can do themselves to lower their risk of cancer, and that's important," Colleen Doyle, MS, RD, director of nutrition and physical activity for the American Cancer Society and co-author of the report. "But we must also take public action to make those behaviors easier for all Americans.

"The environments in which we live, work, learn and play have a tremendous impact on our ability to make and sustain healthy lifestyle choices. So if we're not working to change those environments so that the healthier choice is the easier choice, we're missing the boat."

The full report can be viewed at http://bit.ly/woezlA.

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