2006-05-19 / Health

Great American Eat Right Challenge


For anyone who needs one more reason to tip the scale toward a healthier lifestyle, the American Cancer Society has it: being overweight is a risk factor for many forms of cancer.

A new nationwide survey commissioned by the American Cancer Society finds that while most Americans (83 percent) recognize the link of being overweight to heart disease and many (57 percent) know the link to diabetes, far fewer (eight percent) understand there is a connection between being overweight and cancer risk. Only 17 percent of the survey respondents said they knew their body mass index (BMI) score, compared to 39 percent who said they knew their cholesterol number, 63 percent their blood type, and 65 percent who knew the number of judges on "American Idol."

The Society launched the Great American Eat Right Challenge (www.cancer.org/eatright) on May 18 to build awareness of the link between being overweight and cancer risk, and to provide practical advice and personalized

tips on adopting healthy eating habits, like portion control, as a way to help maintain a healthy weight and reduce cancer risk. At the Web site, consumers will also find interactive tools and giveaways. The promotion is sponsored by Weight Watchers International, Inc.; the Grain Foods Foundation; and Quest Diagnostics,


"While the problem of overweight and obesity in the United States has received much greater attention in recent years, cancer risk has often been missing from that conversation," said Carolyn D. Runowicz, MD, the Society's president. "Given what we know about the impact of excess weight on cancer risk, and given the trends on weight status in this country, we want people to be aware that their weight could be putting them at risk for cancer." Being overweight is a risk factor for many forms of cancer, including breast cancer among post-menopausal women and colorectal cancer. It is estimated that about one-third of the 564,830 cancer deaths that are expected to occur in the United States in 2006 will be attributable to poor nutrition, physical inactivity, and being overweight or obese. Nearly two-thirds of Americans are overweight, including 30 percent who are obese. In Massachusetts, more than 54 percent of the population is considered overweight, including more than 18 percent who are obese. (Source of statistics: Cancer Facts & Figures Prevention & Early Detection 2006, American Cancer Society.)

"The most effective ways to reduce cancer risk are by maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, eating a healthy diet and not smoking," Runowicz said. "As many as one-third of all cancer deaths could be prevented - not through complicated procedures or expensive medications - but through simple nutrition, physical activity and lifestyle choices that we all make day in and day out."

Recognizing that some people describe a "struggle" with trying to eat right and manage their weight, the Society recommends portion control as a good first step. "Our message is moderation, not deprivation," Runowicz said. "We're not saying to completely cut out your favorite foods. We're saying people should cut them down to size - manage how much they eat. Portion control is a good first step in eating right and maintaining a healthy weight."

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