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June 3, 2015 | 3 minute read

Talk to Your Teens About Cancer Prevention

Parents are teens’ top source of health information, according to a new study from Northwestern University. This is important for helping your teens learn about a topic they are probably not thinking a lot about: cancer prevention.

The “Teens, Health & Technology” survey included a nationally representative group of American teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18. Fifty-five percent of teens reported that they got “a lot” of their health information from parents, followed by health classes at school, medical providers, and the Internet (see below). This means that, for the majority of teens, the conversation about cancer prevention has to begin at home.


*13-18 year olds who say they get “a lot” – Source: Teens, Health and Technology survey, June 2015.

The habits your teens are forming now will likely follow them into adulthood, so now is the time to start building positive health-promoting habits.

Here are 4 things parents can do to teach teens about cancer prevention:

1. Educate yourself. Experts have found that over 1/3 of the most common cancers can be prevented by following AICR’s recommendations. As the number one source for health information, it is important that you as a parent know the recommendations. These include:

  • Be more physically active. Aim for 30 minutes a day or more!
  • Increase your intake of plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and other legumes.
  • Decrease your intake of sugary drinks, red and processed meats, and salty foods.

2. Show teens how to find credible information about cancer risk and health. The new study found that 84% of teens have turned to the Internet for health information at least once, with about 4 of every 10 researching exercise and nutrition online. One third reported that information they found online led to behavior change.

Parents can teach teens to be critical consumers of health information, which includes directing them towards credible online sources. AICR’s website on cancer prevention is built to reflect the latest research in a way that is user-friendly. It’s also important knowing how to find trustworthy health information. We talk about that and the red flags of junk science in Nutrition Web Cred: Is that True?

Try sitting down at the computer with your teens to show them how to find the best information available for different topics.

3. Practice cancer prevention at home. Get active together and use the New American Plate as a guide for meals at home. Aim for meals made up of 2/3 (or more) vegetables, fruit, whole grains, or beans and 1/3 (or less) animal protein. Involve your teens in shopping and meal preparation and explain why you are building meals in this proportion. If this seems like a big jump from your current way of eating, consider taking the New American Plate Challenge as a family!

4. Talk to your kids about cancer prevention. Talk to your teens about how incorporating healthy eating and activity now can have a significant impact on cancer prevention and their health when they are older. You can also talk to them about more immediate benefits seen with healthy behaviors, including improved memory and mood.

Samantha Tryon MA, MS, is currently completing her dietetic internship at the National Institutes of Health.  Sam is a former high school teacher who is passionate about making science information accessible to the public and promoting healthy behaviors and a positive body image.  

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