After not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight throughout life is the most important thing one can do to reduce cancer risk. Research from AICR’s Third Expert Report shows there is a link between excess body fat and 12 different cancers.
September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month and in 2015-2016 the prevalence of obesity for children and adolescents aged 2-19 years was 18.5%, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. This translates to 13.7 million children and adolescents affected by obesity. While it is never too late to make lifestyle changes, studies suggest that children who have obesity are more likely to have obesity as adults. For example, a 2017 study on U.S. children published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that for a two-year old with severe obesity, the chance of being at a healthy weight at age 35 is only one in five.
Another analysis published in the Lancet Public Health found that six of 12 types of obesity-related cancers have significantly increased between 1995-2014 and the risk of these cancers is still increasing in each successive younger age group. These cancers include colorectal, pancreatic, gallbladder, kidney cancer and multiple myeloma (a type of blood cancer).
So, what can parents do to help their children maintain a healthy weight and reduce cancer risk in adulthood? Here are a few suggestions based on AICR’s research and Cancer Prevention Recommendations.
Limit screen time and increase physical activity
Recent AICR Energy Balance and Body Fatness Report points to evidence that greater screen time is a cause of weight gain, overweight and obesity in children. Break up TV or video game time with 15-minute walks outside, household chores or a sport your child enjoys. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition recommends children and adolescents ages 6-17 should do 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily.
Keep healthy snacks on hand
AICR recommends eating a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans and limiting consumption of “fast foods” and other processed foods that are high in fat, starches or sugars. Stock your fridge and pantry with fresh produce and healthy grab-and-go snacks like cheese sticks, Greek yogurt or hard-boiled eggs. This way, kids can choose from healthy snack options rather than processed foods.
Limit consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages
When kids grab a soda or sugary drink, they are taking in excess sugar. Drinking a lot of these sugar-sweetened beverages can contribute to weight gain, so it’s important to have healthy alternatives in your house. Keep water bottles, sparkling water or fruit-infused water readily available to replace soda and sweet drinks.
Make healthy habits fun
AICR has online resources for young children that can help them keep track of how many fruits and veggies they are eating, how much physical activity they are getting and more. For older children and teens, invite them to the kitchen at mealtime to help you cook a healthy meal for the whole family!
Helping children maintain a healthy weight can encourage them to carry these healthy habits into adulthood and reduce their cancer risk. To learn more about childhood obesity and obesity prevention, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics’ HealthyChildren.org.