“Our research aims to clarify associations between diet and physical activity in relation to cancer to encourage at-risk individuals to make lifestyle modifications that may reduce their risk of certain cancers,” lead author of the study Nour Makarem, a nutrition doctoral student at NYU Steinhardt, said in a news release.
A high percentage of all cancers (one third) are associated with obesity and previous studies have shown that obesity is tightly linked with an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer. For example, in the study “Global burden of cancer attributable to high body-mass index in 2012: a population-based study”, published in The Lancet Oncology, researchers found that a quarter of all obesity-related cancers in 2012 could be the result of the increasing average body mass index (BMI) since 1982.
Additional research preformed over a period of 35 years that analyzed data of roughly 240,000 Swedish males from 1969 to 1976 found that that obesity was tightly linked with a 2.37 times higher risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Back in 1997, the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research warned about weight management, diet, and physical activity in their cancer prevention guidelines, advising people to positively change their dietary habits.
In these recent results, published in the journal Cancer Causes & Control, the research team analyzed if healthy dietary habits and physical exercise were actually linked to a reduction in obesity-related cancers, such as colorectal, breast and prostate cancer. As such, they went through medical and dietary registries of 2,983 men and women that integrated the Framingham Heart Study, a 60-year population study analyzing factors linked to cardiovascular disease and cancer. Considering data from the period between 1991 and 2008, the team observed 480 obesity-related cancers among all participants.
They then created a 7 point score based on different lifestyle habits, including body fat, exercise and plant vs animal foods, to understand the connection between cancer prevention recommendations and cancer incidence.
The results showed that when score factors were independently analyzed, limiting daily alcoholic drinks (2 for men and 1 for women) along with starchy and non-starchy vegetable consumption had a protective effect against obesity-related cancers.
“Based on the study’s results, dietary advice on preventing cancer should emphasize the importance of eating a plant-based diet and restricting alcohol consumption,” study’s senior author Niyati Parekh, associate professor of nutrition and public health at NYU Steinhardt, added in the news release.