Embargoed Until: 11:00 a.m., November 5, 2009 Contact: Glen Weldon, email@example.com, Office:202-328-7744 x221, Cell: 202-413-0261 Awareness of Obesity-Cancer Link Called “Alarmingly Low” Americans Dread Cancer But Remain Confused About its Causes, Survey Shows WASHINGTON, DC – The latest results from a biennial survey of cancer risk awareness shows that only about half of Americans realize that carrying excess body fat places them at significantly higher risk for several cancers. The survey also reveals that although cancer ranks as the nation’s #1 health concern, only a small percentage of Americans realize that many cancers are highly preventable. Although awareness of the obesity cancer-link has edged over 50 percent for the first time since the survey began in 2001, experts at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), who commissioned the survey, expressed concern today that the latest results show body fatness – a major cause of cancer – still lagging far behind other known risk factors. “In light of the fact that excess body fat causes over 100,000 cancer cases each year in the US – cases that could be prevented by staying lean – public awareness of the link remains alarmingly low,” said AICR Nutrition Communications Manager Alice Bender, MS, RD, who presented the results of the survey at a press conference coinciding with AICR’s Annual Research Conference on Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer in Washington, DC. “It’s a message that desperately needs to be heard.” A Disconnect in Risk Awareness Awareness that tobacco use and excessive exposure to sunlight are cancer risks has remained high throughout the survey’s history (tobacco now stands at 94 percent awareness, sun exposure at 87 percent). But the percentage of Americans who can identify other factors that have also been convincingly linked to increased cancer risk is much lower. Only 51 percent of Americans now realize that obesity is a cause of cancer. (An AICR expert report found convincing evidence that excess body fat is a cause of 6 different cancers: colorectal, post-menopausal breast, endometrial, pancreatic, kidney and esophageal.) Awareness has inched up steadily from 2001 levels, when it languished at 35 percent, but AICR experts say this number needs to be much higher. “We’re working toward the day when the link between obesity and cancer is up there alongside the link between smoking and cancer in the public’s mind,” said Bender. Awareness that diets low in vegetables and fruit increase cancer risk rose slightly over 2007 levels, from 49 to 52 percent. Less than half of Americans (46 percent) realize that a lack of physical activity places them at higher risk. The percentage of Americans who recognize that diets high in red meat increase risk has fluctuated widely over the survey’s history, but now stands at 38 percent, roughly where it was in 2001 (39 percent). Americans continue to show a propensity to blame cancer on “cancer genes,” (90 percent), despite the fact that inherited genetic mutations such as BRCA1, APC and p53 occur in only a small proportion of the population. The AICR experts note that healthy choices about diet and physical activity are even more important to those with an inherited predisposition. Cancer Most Feared, Least Understood Health Issue The AICR survey also revealed that Americans rate cancer as their #1 health concern. Thirtyseven percent of respondents named cancer their top concern compared to 21 percent who cited heart attack, 12 percent who cited diabetes and 8 percent who cited stroke. But only 20 percent of respondents rated cancer a highly preventable disease, compared to 34 percent for stroke, 45 percent for heart attack and 46 percent for diabetes. According to AICR, most cancers are preventable: About one-third of the most common cancers could be prevented through diet, physical activity and weight management. AICR does not study smoking’s effect on cancer, but tobacco use is considered to be responsible for a similar percentage of cancer cases - about one-third. “A Toxic Combination” “Cancer tops the list of feared chronic diseases, yet 4 out of 5 Americans don’t realize that they can protect themselves against it,” said Bender. “That’s a toxic combination.” This state of affairs can lead individuals to feel confused and helpless at the prospect of getting cancer, said Bender. “When it comes to cancer, there are no guarantees,” she said. “But convincing evidence now shows that risk can be lowered by making small, positive, everyday changes to our habits.” Chief among these changes: Getting to, and staying at, a healthy weight. Bender also pointed to the conclusions of AICR’s Policy Report, released earlier this year. “While it’s very important for individuals to make healthy changes, it is also critical that all sectors of society – government, schools, food industry, workplaces, health professionals - work toward policies and environments that support healthy weight,” she said. The latest AICR Cancer Risk Awareness survey, including methodology, charts and AICR commentary, can be found at www.aicr.org/2009survey Raw survey data tables – including breakdowns by sex, age, income, metro status and race, are available upon request. The AICR Cancer Risk Awareness Survey has been conducted every two years since 2001. Americans aged 18 and older are telephoned at random on behalf of AICR by International Communications Management (ICR) using the EXCEL omnibus service. *** The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $91 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.
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