Colleen Doyle, MS, RD, from the American Cancer Society shared both the myths and realities relating to cancer risk. Her overall message? Live healthier lives!

We know there are 160 million people overweight in the United States, we also know 120 million don’t meet the physical activities guidelines and 95 million don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. How this relates to cancer risk lies in the data that tells us obesity, poor nutrition, inactivity, and smoking are the leading causes of cancer and that eating well, maintain a healthy weight, and exercise is the best way to avoid it.

The 2012 American Cancer Society guidelines recommend:

Maintain a  healthy weight: up to 20% of all deaths in the United States are related to obesity.

Adapt a physically active lifestyle: Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week and adolescents should have one hour per day. People are encouraged to limit sedentary behavior such as sitting and watching television.

Consume a healthy diet with focus on plant sources: We should eat two and a half cups of fruits and vegetables a day as well as limit processed and red meat while choosing whole grains over refined produce. The only known cancer risk is associated with eating processed meats and colon cancer.

Drink alcohol in moderation: Limit consumption to one or two glasses per day.

As nutrition professionals, how do we support cancer survivors? Studies have shown that patients who adhere to the ACS guidelines do have lower rates of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, too many people are not aware of these guidelines.

The presentation also addressed several myths surrounding the risk of cancer, including sugar feeds cancer, soy is dangerous, superfoods have special health powers, alkaline diets are best,  organic foods add protective value, and GMOs, artificial sweeteners, or supplements reduce cancer risk. There is no research that shows any of these myths to be true.

Ms. Doyle concluded her presentation with an insightful look at how environmental factors conspire against us and affect our ability to make healthy food choices.

She emphasized we all have a role to play in reducing the barriers to a healthy diet and exercise. We can influence changes in policies and systems to make healthier communities.

The bottom line is that we all need to look at the big picture in creating healthy communities, living healthier lives,  and improving our quality of life.