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New Study: AICR Recommendations Save Lives
Following At Least Six Recommendations Cuts Risk of Death By One-Third

WASHINGTON, DC—In a major new study that tracked the diets and disease rates of nearly 380,000 people over 13 years, those who closely followed seven simple lifestyle recommendations made by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) cut their risk of dying from all diseases – including cancer, circulatory disease and respiratory disease – by 34 percent, compared to those who did not follow the recommendations.

The study, published in the April 3 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, used data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC), one of the world’s largest ongoing studies of diet, lifestyle and cancer.

AICR Director of Research Susan Higginbotham, PhD, RD, welcomed the new study results. “We’ve known for years that following AICR’s lifestyle advice could cut the worldwide incidence of cancer cases by about one-third,” she said. “Today we have evidence on mortality, which shows that this same practical advice could also save millions of lives from cancer and other chronic diseases around the world.”

The recommendations associated with the greatest reduction in risk of death had to do with avoiding overweight and obesity (22 percent lower risk) and eating a plant-based diet (21 percent lower risk).

Assigning a Score

The lifestyle recommendations examined in the AJCN study were developed by AICR and the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) for the expert report, Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective.

For the purposes of the study, researchers looked at seven of the ten AICR/WCRF Recommendations for Cancer Prevention. Researchers developed a scoring system to reflect how closely the study’s participants were following these seven AICR/WCRF recommendations:

  1. Stay as lean as possible without becoming underweight.
  2. Be active for at least 30 minutes a day.
  3. Limit consumption of calorie-dense foods and avoid sugary drinks.
  4. Eat a plant-based diet that includes a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans.
  5. Limit intake of red meat (beef, pork, lamb) and avoid processed meat (ham, cold cuts, bacon, sausage).
  6. If you consume alcohol, limit yourself to one drink/day for women, two drinks/day for men.
  7. (WOMEN ONLY) Breastfeed your children exclusively for the first six months.

Following each one of the recommendations studied was associated with lowering risk for death.

  • Body Fatness
    Having a healthy body-mass index (BMI) in the lower range (indicative of low body fat) reduced the likelihood of dying from any disease by 22 percent compared to those with the highest BMI.
  • Physical Activity
    Being active for at least 30 minutes a day reduced the risk of death from all diseases by 15 percent compared to those who were inactive.
  • Calorie-Dense Foods and Drinks
    Avoiding sugary drinks and foods that promote weight gain reduced the risk of death by 9 percent compared to those who consumed these foods in high amounts.
  • Plant-Based Diet
    Along with staying lean, eating a plant-based diet emerged as one the most powerfully protective factors in the study, with diets high in plant foods (at least five servings per day) reducing the risk of dying from any disease by 21 percent compared to those who ate the least.
  • Red and Processed Meat
    Not independently associated with any one cause of death, but low intake was associated with the overall 34 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality observed in the study.
  • Alcohol
    Following the recommendation to limit alcohol consumption reduced risk of death from cancer by 21 percent, and overall risk of death from all diseases by 8 percent.
  • Breastfeeding
    The AICR/WCRF expert report was the first to issue a recommendation on breastfeeding for cancer prevention, and this new study was the first to apply that recommendation to mortality. Women who breastfeed their children have a 17 percent reduced risk for death from all diseases compared to women who do not.

Recommendations Make A Real-World Difference

“Following any one of our recommendations offers some protection from cancer, chronic disease and early death, but your overall lifestyle is key – making these healthy choices most of the time,” said Alice Bender, MS, RD, AICR’s Nutrition Advisor.

“This latest study confirms that AICR’s Recommendations for Cancer Prevention outline an overall approach to diet, weight and physical activity that offers powerful protection,” she continued, “but it also shows that public health efforts to improve school lunches, increase physical activity, support breastfeeding and restrict alcohol consumption make a measurable savings in human lives.”

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 $96 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. www.aicr.org

Notes for editors

  • Researchers looked at the participants of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study who provided dietary, anthropometric and lifestyle information. Scientists allocated a score to show how closely each participant adhered to the WCRF/AICR guidelines (0-6 for men and 0-7 for women).
  • At the end of the study, nearly 24,000 participants had died of various causes. Participants in the highest WCRF/AICR score category (5-6 points for men, 6-7 points for women) had a 34 per cent lesser chance of death compared to those in the lowest category (0-2 points for men, 0-3 points for women).
  • As only seven of WCRF/AICR’s ten recommendations were studied – due to lack of data or because the recommendations were not applicable to the study objectives (eg cancer survivors) – the reduction in the risk of death associated with adherence to the recommendations is likely to be underestimated.
  • The study recorded a linear relationship showing an increasing reduced risk of death with each higher score.
  • The association between risk of death and adherence to the WCRF/AICR recommendations was not significantly modified by smoking status.
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