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September 26, 2022 | 7 minute read

AICR: Prioritizing Policies that Make a Difference

AICR’s 40 years have been marked by action on three different fronts to harness scientific research on cancer prevention and survival to reduce our country’s cancer burden. Funding vital research and communicating essential messages about how to put its findings into practice are critical parts of this effort. And more recently, AICR broadened efforts to include another key element: contributing an expert voice to public policy initiatives.

Public policies can make healthy lifestyles easier and more widely attainable—or make them harder. And through its work in supporting cancer research related to diet, weight and physical activity, and synthesizing the body of research into priority Recommendations, AICR is perfectly positioned to contribute to the development of national-level policies that can be most effective in reducing cancer occurrence and supporting cancer survivors.

How Policy Efforts Entered AICR’s Sphere of Work

Founded in 1982, AICR’s initial contributions to the goal of reducing the burden of cancer focused on communicating the evidence —astounding to many people at that time—that nutrition and other aspects of lifestyle could reduce cancer risk. Despite mounting evidence that diet and physical activity have a strong influence on cancer development, only a small proportion of national grant support for research targeted this area. So, AICR’s other priority was funding research to move this field forward.

However, the contrast of people’s strong desire to learn more about preventing cancer, yet slow to change typical lifestyle habits, demonstrated the need for AICR to extend its work.

Healthy choices need to become easier.

AICR, in partnership with the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), issued its first policy report in 2008 to focus attention on successful policy efforts from around the world that could be replicated or adapted elsewhere.

Since then, AICR has expanded these efforts to make healthy choices easier and more accessible for everyone.

As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I applaud these efforts. Health professionals can educate people about the impact their eating and activity habits can have and provide advice about specific steps they can take. Yet every day we come face to face with the reality that if healthy food choices and places to safely be physically active aren’t accessible—by dollars, location or knowledge—they become “shoulds” that never get implemented.

AICR: Leading Voice in Research, Education and Policy

Today, AICR works with lawmakers, medical experts and other key stakeholders to reduce preventable cases of cancer and improve public health. AICR experts provide evidence and Recommendations to help design and implement policies to reduce preventable cases of cancer and other noncommunicable diseases related to diet and physical activity.

If you sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the headlines about different dietary strategies to promote health, imagine being someone in government or business charged with making decisions about what information to include on a food label or what food to provide for people. With so many conflicting interests and agendas, it would be hard to know what information is sound and what to prioritize without the perspective of trusted experts.

When it comes to cancer risk and survivorship, AICR is a trusted voice that puts the best available evidence in context and shows how to set priorities for steps that can best support lifestyle choices that will ease the burden of cancer on individuals, families, business and society. AICR is also working to promote access to and insurance coverage for nutrition and physical activity interventions for people with cancer and cancer survivors.

How to Prioritize Policies that Make a Difference? AICR Shines a Light

Of all the actions that we, as a society, can take to reduce cancer risk and support survivorship, what are the priorities for effectively reaching these goals? AICR has become a leading voice in providing a research-based, trustworthy perspective.

The White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health this fall is the first conference of its kind in more than 50 years and will feature the release of a national strategy to address challenges in this area. AICR has provided expert insights to inform this strategy to harness the power of good nutrition, access to healthy food and physical activity to reduce the personal, family and societal costs of cancer today.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are the foundation for federal policies and programs. And its nutrition advice is shared across many settings. AICR worked to advocate that the 2020–2025 DGA reflect the latest evidence on how both diet and alcohol are connected to cancer. The scientific report of the guidelines advisory committee relied on AICR’s analysis of best available research and Recommendations about dietary patterns, and about limiting red and processed meat, added sugars and alcohol. Although this was only partially included in the final DGA, public discussion about inconsistencies helped to increase public awareness of the connections between diet, alcohol and cancer risk.

The process for the 2025–2030 DGA update is now underway, and AICR is hard at work advocating for methods of evidence review that will ensure scientific accuracy and adequate attention to the importance of diet and alcohol intake to reduce cancer incidence.

Food labels are an important way for many people to decide about their food choices. AICR is working to support consumer education related to the updated Nutrition Facts label and menu labeling and provide expert perspectives on future nutrition labeling priorities.

More Ways to Reduce Cancer Risk and Support Survivorship

Physical activity research is increasingly showing benefits throughout the spectrum of cancer, from prevention through survivorship. But most people have not found ways to include physical activity regularly, and we need to find ways to make it easier to follow AICR’s physical activity Recommendation. AICR supports continued research to advance the understanding of how to best use physical activity and regular updates to federal physical activity guidelines. And in collaboration with other organizations, AICR advocates for development of a strategy to better integrate physical activity as part of health care.

Alcohol increases risk of at least six different types o f cancer, according to strong evidence from research. And for some forms of cancer, this increase in risk occurs even within amounts of alcohol classified as “moderation.” Yet surveys consistently show that less than half of Americans are aware of this link. Although alcohol currently carries warning labels about use of heavy machinery and consumption during pregnancy, there is no mention of cancer risk. AICR has been helping leaders to understand the science and advocating for a cancer warning label on alcoholic beverages to inform consumers about this relationship.

Cancer survivors have much to gain by access to lifestyle Interventions, and AICR is working in support of insurance coverage for these interventions. For example, AICR is advocating for legislation to require Medicare coverage of medical nutrition therapy for people with cancer. And through engagement with the Moving Through Cancer initiative, AICR is working to make physical activity part of the standard of care for people with cancer and cancer survivors.

Federal funding for cancer research is critical to sustaining lifesaving progress in cancer prevention and survivorship. Sustained increases in funding for the National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute and separate funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health—a new entity dedicated to accelerating research translation—are crucial for advancing research on the impact of lifestyle factors on cancer prevention and survivorship and identifying best practice strategies for implementing what we know works to change behavior.

The Fortieth Anniversary: Celebrating AICR’s Multifaceted Contributions

From its beginnings at a time when many people were unaware that diet and physical activity could play a role in cancer risk, AICR has been a leading force in changing the landscape. Efforts initially focused on funding groundbreaking research and communicating the science with accuracy. Today, AICR has become recognized as a trusted source in supporting implementation of cancer prevention strategies at a population level through its policy work.

Research provides strong evidence that diet and physical activity can reduce cancer risk. AICR has developed Recommendations to implement it, educational material to show how and recipes to show how healthy eating can be delicious. Evidence shows that lifestyles don’t need to be perfect to make a difference in cancer risk and survivorship.

Now we need to find ways to make it easier for more people to move forward step-by-step to living these choices.

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