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New Year, New Policies to Help You “Do Something” to Lower Your Cancer Risk

As AICR marks World Cancer Day 2014 on February 4, and Cancer Prevention Month in the U.S., we’re talking a lot about how many cancers could be prevented if Americans would eat a healthier diet, be more physically active and achieve and maintain a healthy weight. We’re encouraging everyone to “Do Something” to lower your cancer risk.

But even if you are committed to healthy choices, it’s not always simple. Policy makers and researchers are looking at how healthcare providers, communities, workplaces, schools and restaurants can play a role. This year, three new national policies take effect that may help you.

1.    Menu labeling.
Some states and cities already have requirements for calorie information on menus for chain restaurants and fast-food establishments, but later this year similar rules for menu labeling will go into effect nationally. This is important because a recent study found the average meal at these restaurants contains about 1500 calories – almost a full day’s worth for many. Americans eat about one-third of food away from home so if you are looking to cut some calories when dining out, this will be valuable information.

Do Something:
When you see calorie labeling, consider that women need around 1600-2000 calories per day and men about 2000-2800, depending on age and activity levels. So one meal would average about 500-700 calories. As you order all your meal items, add up the calories so you can stick with your goal. If it adds up to too much, consider sharing, taking half home, ordering lower calorie choices, asking for a smaller portion or you can request special preparation to lower calories, like less cheese, sauce or salad dressing.

2.    Obesity screening and counseling for all adults.
As part of the new healthcare law, some preventive health services are covered by insurance. At your annual check-up this year, your doctor can not only check your weight, but also provide counseling to help you get started losing weight if you are overweight or obese.

Do Something:
Ask your doctor about your weight. If your doctor does give you some nutritional counseling, consider that session to be the starting point and ask for more sessions. Or request a referral to a weight loss program or a Registered Dietitian in the community that offers structure and support. You can also join AICR’s New American Plate Challenge, a free online 12-week program to help you feel better, lose weight and lower your cancer risk.

3.    Diet counseling for adults at higher risk for chronic disease.
This is another preventive health service covered by insurance, even if you aren’t overweight or obese, but are at risk for type 2 diabetes or heart disease, for example. Your doctor may find that your blood lipids are at unhealthy levels, or that your blood sugar is creeping up, putting you at risk for type 2 diabetes. They – or someone in their practice - can give you guidance for dietary changes.

Do Something:
Some risk factors for chronic diseases also link to increased risk for many cancers. Find out what your numbers are – cholesterol (total, LDL, HDL), triglycerides and blood sugar – and how those compare to healthy levels. And ask if your family history puts you at higher for chronic diseases. If so, request help with making appropriate diet changes.

You can get started by taking a look at what you’re eating day in and day out and compare it to the New American Plate – 2/3 filled with plant foods like vegetables, beans, fruit and whole grains, and 1/3 or less with animal foods. If you eat a lot of highly processed foods and drink sugary beverages and alcohol regularly, making some healthy food swaps may help you keep blood sugar and blood lipids in a healthier range. Try these five changes.

Many Americans still don’t know that they can take steps to lower their cancer risk through a healthy diet, physical activity and being lean. You can DO SOMETHING - visit our Facebook page for ideas - and share this information with friends and family during Cancer Prevention Month.

Published on February 7, 2014

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