Cancer : Diet Can Determine Cancer Risk

Dawn Kurry, Richmond County Daily Journal, Rockingham, N.C

Eating better and getting more physical activity can lower cancer risk, the latest studies show, and the American Cancer Society (ACS) has updated its prevention guidelines to reflect the new research.

With North Carolina having one of the nation's highest obesity rates, the ACS is hoping to change habits in the Tar Heel state -- starting with school children.

The focus is on weight control through nutrition and staying active. Obese people change their body chemistry with higher levels of insulin and estrogen, the ACS said, which raises the risk of cancer, said Colleen Doyle, ACS director of nutrition and physical activity -- and North Carolina's traditional menu of fried and grease-laden food doesn't help.

"As we age, we often go back to those comfort foods that we were given as a child," said Doyle. "So it's a diet that we've adopted over a course of time that's harder to break."

"Research shows that there may be a link with eating healthy foods and reducing the risk for cancer," said Richmond County Cooperative Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences, Sarah Mammarella. "There are cancer-fighting components, called phytochemicals and antioxidants, that are found in whole grains, and brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Phytochemicals and antioxidants can protect us from cancer by neutralizing free radicals and/or preventing cancer causing agents from forming."

Curbing the problem of obesity starts in the school system, Doyle said, where one in three North Carolina children from ages 10 through 17 are obese.

"We are encouraging the Legislature to adopt increased health standards for foods sold outside the school lunch program in all North Carolina schools," said Doyle.

"The Richmond County Health Department has an excellent partnership with Richmond County Schools Grades K-3 through our Operation Healthy Kids Initiative," said Richmond County Health Department Director Tommy Jarrell. "This curriculum based initiative includes physical activity components. It has been in place for the past five or six years and recent results indicate very positive results with reduced BMI for students in grades K-3. We certainly work to encourage regular physical activity for all age groups as a way to improve our health and well being. This is done through a variety of methods including Health Education Programs, Clinic Education, etc."

Excessive weight is a factor in 14 percent to 20 percent of U.S. cancer deaths, according to the cancer society, adding that those who follow the new recommendations for diet and exercise also will also reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.

Some of the new guidelines are lifestyle choices, such as maintaining a lifelong healthy weight, being physically active, limiting alcohol consumption and consuming a diet rich in plant-based foods. The ACS also recommends limiting processed and red meat.

"The American Cancer Society's new guidelines focus on all aspects of leading a healthy lifestyle. In addition to decreasing cancer risk, these guidelines could also be used to decrease the risk for obesity, diabetes and heart disease," said Mammarella.

An overview of the new guidelines is online at

-- Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at

©2012 the Richmond County Daily Journal (Rockingham, N.C.)

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