Survey Shows Broad Ignorance of Exercise-Cancer Link: Diet Link More Widely Known

American Institute for Cancer Research
Saturday, 14 August 1999

A survey commissioned by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) has revealed that a high percentage of Americans are unaware that regular exercise can reduce the risk of cancer. In contrast, the great majority know that eating vegetables and fruit can contribute to the body's defense against the disease.

Asked to agree or disagree with the statement "exercising regularly reduces the risk of cancer," only 60 percent agreed. Thirty-two percent disagreed and 8 percent said they didn't know.

"This response is disturbing," said AICR President Marilyn Gentry. "Most cancers are preventable, yet forty percent of Americans don't even know about one of the essential steps they can take to prevent the disease."

The link between exercise and cancer prevention was confirmed in 1997 by a panel of 16 renowned scientists assembled by AICR in conjunction with its international affiliate the World Cancer Research Fund. The panel reviewed 4,500 scientific studies on the association between diet and activity level on one hand and cancer risk on the other and published its conclusions in the 670-page report Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective.

The panel concluded that eating a predominantly plant-based diet could reduce incidence of cancer by 20 percent. Additional steps such as exercising regularly and controlling weight brought the figure up to forty percent.

The panel found a general association between inactivity and increased overall cancer risk. In addition, there is convincing evidence that physical activity decreases the risk of colon cancer and possibly breast and lung cancer. Conversely, obesity, often linked to inactivity, increases the risk of cancer of the kidney, endometrium, breast, bladder, colon and rectum.

AICR recommends that if people's occupational activity is low, they take an hour's brisk walk or similar exercise daily and also exercise vigorously for at least one hour per week. Any activity leading to that goal is highly encouraged.

On a more positive note, the AICR survey indicated that four out of five Americans are aware of the link between diet and cancer. Asked to agree or disagree with the statement "eating more vegetables and fruit reduces risk of cancer," almost 84 percent of respondents agreed.

AICR's expert panel reviewed 202 case-control studies on the link between vegetables and fruit and cancer prevention. An astounding 78 percent showed a statistically protective effect, and none showed an increase in cancer risk with consumption of these foods.

Gentry noted that knowledge about fat consumption might be taken as a benchmark of public awareness about diet and disease. In the AICR survey, 90 percent of respondents agreed with the assertion that reducing fat consumption lowers the risk of heart disease. This high level of awareness is ascribed to extensive public education programs funded by the government and commercial interests.

"We would like to see an equivalent effort on the part of the government to raise awareness concerning the choices people can make to reduce risk of cancer," Gentry said. "People need to be taught what steps they can take to protect themselves from it."

Conducted for AICR by International Communications Research (ICR), the survey involved 1012 adults, 18 years or older, chosen at random. Respondents were interviewed by telephone during a five day period in late July.

The American Institute for Cancer Research is the only major cancer charity focusing exclusively on the link between diet and cancer. The Institute provides a wide range of educational programs that have helped millions of Americans learn to make changes for lower cancer risk. AICR also supports innovative research in cancer prevention and treatment at universities, hospitals and research centers across the U.S. The Institute has provided nearly $50 million in funding for research in diet, nutrition and cancer. AICR's Internet address is www.aicr.org.

For more information, or to contact American Institute for Cancer Research, see their website at: www.aicr.org

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