Each year there are hundreds of thousands of cancer cases that are preventable through diet, activity and weight control. February is Cancer Prevention Month, so we wanted to share the American’s Institute for Cancer Research’s (AICR) top tips for cancer prevention for families. We asked Alice Bender, MS, RD one of AICR.org’s dietitians to talk with us and share her insights on healthy eating and living to prevent cancer starting with kids.
These three steps really add up to a lifestyle for cancer prevention.
Aim to fill at least 2/3 of your plate with vegetables, whole grains, beans, fruit, and other plant foods. The remaining 1/3 or less can contain animal foods like fish, poultry, meat, and dairy.
Aim for at least 30 minutes – take a walk, play tag, do jumping jacks, dance and relive childhood games with your kids. Find ways to fit in movement throughout the day and make it fun and easy.
Rotate family members making meals, take walks together, have kids help with setting and decorating the table, or find a u-pick farm. Habits formed early influence lifestyle through adulthood. Creating healthy habits in your kids’ now can help prevent adult cancers later in life.
There isn’t a direct link between eating sugar and cancer risk. But too many sugary drinks, like sodas, are linked to weight gain and having overweight and obesity. And processed foods with added fat and sugar are part of a diet pattern that can lead to weight gain. AICR research shows that having excess body fat increases the risk for 11 adult cancers, including colorectal, postmenopausal breast and esophageal cancer. The takeaway for parents and kids is to limit or avoid sugary beverages and processed foods with added sugars.
Utilize the Super Crew! You can also find a healthy role model – athlete, actor or someone close to them – that lives a healthy life and is cool.
I love the activities. There are such great ideas to make healthy foods and other choices come alive in a fun and kid-friendly way. For example, the Super Crew food tracker is a great way to get kids interested in eating colorful produce, the fitness tracker can also get the whole family moving more.
Very good news! AICR research links coffee consumption with lower risk for endometrial and liver cancers.
First is that starting early with healthy habits is a great way to get a head start for lifelong health. Finding enjoyable physical activities provides kids a chance to get moving in a fun way and gives them confidence in their ability to do sports or just enjoy being active.
Research is evolving on how early diet and activity may help with health later on. One thing that’s clear is that being a healthy weight through childhood can help! So as you age aim to stay at a healthy weight, and limit excess weight gain over time. Overweight and obesity in childhood may present risks later, for example, some studies have found that overweight girls can be at risk for colorectal cancer later.
It’s never too early to build lifestyle habits for cancer prevention. For kids and teens that are overweight, consult with a dietitian.
Our Cancer Prevention Month resource has a lot of tools to help families take steps toward a healthier lifestyle. A great place to start is with our free 30-Day Can Prevent Checklist, where each day you can do an activity that links to lower cancer risk. And check out Healthy Kids Today – Prevent Cancer Tomorrow for great kid-friendly activities and recipes: http://www.aicr.org/can-prevent/healthy-kids/activities/
It’s all about making the healthy choices wherever you are. If you eat out a lot, try places where you can get small tacos or healthy appetizers that can double as the main course.
If you’re short on cooking time on weeknights, purchase a lot of already chopped veggies, prep a big pot of brown rice and make that a base for a few meals. Add veggies and rice to a tofu stir-fry or use them to upgrade canned soup into a hearty stew.
For cancer prevention, AICR research shows that it’s best to get nutrients from food. While some people may need supplements for specific reasons, we don’t recommend supplements for cancer prevention. If you do take supplements, work with a dietitian who can advise you about safety and potential drug-herb interactions.
My favorite resource is the New American Plate and the New American Plate challenge program that we offer twice a year. It’s a great way to eat healthily and get active, having fun, connecting with other people and getting specific SMART goals every week.
Keep them available and easily accessible – fruit bowl on the table or kitchen counter, raw veggies and dip ready to eat on the top shelf of the fridge. Serve veggies at every meal, especially the ones they DO like. For ones they don’t like, try roasting or preparing them in a different way. Take kids shopping with you and let them select a special fruit or vegetables from the store and have them help prepare it when you get home. Also, limit the availability of snacks with lots of added fat and sugar, instead boost healthy snacks with fruit, vegetables, whole grains or plant-based proteins.
Again – the activities in the healthy kid’s section of our website help kids learn about healthy food in a fun way and present a positive message. You can talk about how many of these advertised foods don’t give ‘superpowers’. When age appropriate, talk about the ads and messages they’re seeing and what are they really saying about these foods. It’s a good way to start teaching media literacy too!
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