What’s Keeping Americans from Living Healthy?

healthy family

If you’re like most Americans you struggle to make cancer-protective lifestyle choices - like eating smart and moving more. Perhaps making changes seems too difficult or you just can’t seem to find time. That’s what Americans said when we surveyed them to find out what healthy behaviors they’re doing and if not, why they aren’t making these choices.

Research shows that eating smart, moving more and being a healthy weight are key to reducing cancer risk. AICR estimates that about one-third of many of the most common cancers in the US could be prevented if everyone followed these guidelines.

Making changes can be challenging, but here we break down the barriers and suggest doable steps to help you get started.

Eat Smart

For lower cancer risk, AICR recommends choosing mostly plant foods, like vegetables, whole grains and beans. These foods should take up two-thirds or more of your plate or bowl.

The barrier:  Many Americans said eating a healthier diet will cost too much.

Try this: Start with available and affordable foods to give your plate a health boost. No need to rely on the latest trendy “superfoods”.

  • Choose common, lower-cost fresh produce for your grocery cart: Carrots, cabbage, sweet potatoes, lettuce, bananas, apples, oranges and pears are among the most affordable items in the produce area. These make great snacks and require minimal prep.
  • Stock up on canned foods: Add canned beans like kidney, pinto, and garbanzo to soups, stews and salads. Canned fruits like pears, pineapple and mandarin are great on their own or in veggie or fruit salads. Canned is convenient and economical.
  • Keep frozen foods on hand: Frozen veggies like green beans, carrots, peas, corn and leafy greens mean no waste and easy steaming or cooking. Broaden your freezer stock to include whole grains like bags of cooked brown rice as a base for stir-fries, and whole-wheat pitas for quick sandwiches and pizzas.

Move More

For cancer prevention, AICR research shows you should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day and avoid sedentary habits like too much sitting, TV watching or screen time.

The barrier: Americans said they just can’t find the time to be more physically active.

Try this: Start now to build up a few minutes here and there so it adds up to 30 minutes.

  • Take a 5-minute walking break: If you sit a lot during the day, every hour or so, get up and walk down the street, around the building or up and down the stairs for 3-5 minutes. Those few minutes add up quickly!
  • Make it a family affair: Create family activity challenges. See who can do lunges, jumping jacks or push-ups for one minute during commercial breaks; have a dance-off for the craziest moves or let the kids take turns leading a 2-minute exercise break.
  • Try a new activity or get back to that thing you used to do: Maybe you used to hike, or play tennis or you’ve always wanted to try martial arts or a dance class. Find a like-minded friend(s), join a class and make it a social occasion.


Get to - and Stay - a Healthy Weight

Next to not smoking, being at a healthy weight is the single most important thing people can do to lower their risk, as carrying excess body fat is a cause for ten different kinds of cancer.

The barrier: People’s common concerns are that losing weight is too difficult and they don’t know where to start.

Try this: Keep it simple and begin with one specific change that you can realistically do and that you can measure how you did after a few days or a week. For example:

  • Be Specific: I will eat one vegetable...
  • Measure it: …at least 5 days this week.
  • How to Achieve it:  I can do this because I like green salads, sweet potatoes and mixed vegetables.
  • It’s Realistic: I already have lettuce, a sweet potato and frozen vegetables on hand.
  • Track it: Make a note when you eat your vegetables. You can write it on your calendar or notebook or use an app. At the end of the week you can review and stick with it or revise it for the next week.


This is based on the SMART goal concept and is a research-based strategy to help you get started making healthy changes that put you on the path to feeling better, having more energy and lowering your cancer risk.

Getting support is another important way to make change and especially to keep it up. If you’re ready to try making changes, we’re here to help you take it step by step with our free 12-week weight loss program, AICR’s New American Plate Challenge. The Challenge starts February 29 and you can sign up now.

For Cancer Prevention Month, our Cancer Prevention: Together We Can campaign also offers quizzes, an Activity Tracker and other interactive tools to help you make changes for better health. Thanks to Yakima Fresh, the chief sponsor of the campaign.



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