The Value of Physical Activity & Diet in Cancer Prevention

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Cancer prevention diet and exercise recommendations not met by 60 to 90 percent of women

June 15, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Dominique Brooks, M.D

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(dailyRx News) Though most women in general know what it takes to be healthy, not every woman knows what it takes to prevent cancer. Some claim they are doing what it takes to keep cancer at bay, but reports say otherwise.

Most women who said they had a healthy diet and were physically active actually failed to meet the cancer prevention recommendations, a recently published study found.

According to these researchers, the findings show the importance of healthy behaviors.

"In other words, the data revealed a substantial disconnect between what women believed they were doing to help prevent cancer and what they reported actually doing," said the lead researcher.

"Check out diet and fitness recommendations at www.cancer.org"

The study, led by Jennifer Vidrine, PhD, from the Department of Health Disparities Research at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, looked into women's perceptions about physical activity and diet in preventing cancer.

Other aims of the study were to see how women felt about engaging in those behaviors and whether or not the behaviors met cancer prevention recommendations.

The researchers surveyed 800 adult women on their thoughts and beliefs on the value of physical activity and diet in cancer prevention.

The women also reported whether they felt healthy or not, and whether they engaged in any of the cancer-preventing behaviors. Researchers compared this to how the women actually behaved.

Participants' demographic information was also noted. About three-quarters of the women were non-Latino white, about 7 percent were Latino and 10 percent were African American.

Among the women surveyed, only 9.9 percent of women who reported eating a healthy diet met the minimum fruit and vegetable recommendations, the researchers found.

At the same time, 39.7 percent of women who reported regular physical activity actually met the minimum recommendation levels.

Women who had less education were 10 percent more likely to report that they engaged in regular physical activity but actually not meet the minimum recommendations.

Ethnic and racial minorities were almost three times as likely to not consume enough fruits and vegetables though they reported eating a healthy diet to prevent cancer.

"Unfortunately, examination of the frequency and duration with which they reported engaging in the behaviors of interest revealed that the vast majority of women were ultimately failing to put into practice what numerous studies have found to be effective in preventing cancer," the researchers wrote in their report.

The authors noted a few limitations with their study, including that they did not assess whether the women knew the minimum fruit and vegetable serving sizes, as well as the amount of physical activity needed to prevent cancer.

The participants were also selected by a random digit-dialed phone survey, so individuals without a phone were not included in the study.

And the number of people who actually responded to the survey was low and their reports could be unreliable, biased or changed over time.

Finally, questions regarding cancer prevention behavior beliefs were created just for the study and were not tested beforehand.

Future research should look more thoroughly at the ties between women's perceptions and their actual behavior in preventing cancer, the researchers said. Particular attention should be focused on racial and ethnic minority women and those with less education.

"Compliance with at least the minimum diet and physical activity recommendations for cancer prevention has the potential to reduce the lifetime risk of cancer among women," the researchers wrote.

The study was published online June 10 in the Journal of Women's Health. Grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health supported the study.

No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 14, 2013
Last Updated:
August 7, 2013