EU Science Hub

Making diet count in cancer prevention

Jun 11 2014

Cancer risk factors can be reduced by correct nutrition and physical activity, which are key elements in all recommendations for cancer prevention, such as the European code against cancer.

In a recently published report, JRC scientists screened the national cancer plans of all EU Members States plus Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey and checked how much attention was given to the dietary prevention of cancer. The analysis revealed that over 90% of the plans acknowledge a general link between nutrition and/or physical activity, and the potential positive impact that these can have in the prevention of various types of cancer.

However, when looking into the contents and focal areas of the documents, differences appear. The majority of the actions targeting diets and physical activity consist of awareness-raising campaigns. More binding, concrete measures to make healthy options easily available, or to influence behaviour change towards healthier lifestyles and dietary patterns are less frequent. For example, only 9 national cancer plans provide actions targeting consumption of fruit and vegetables beyond purely providing information on their beneficial effects.

The JRC report "Mapping dietary prevention of cancer in the EU" aims at promoting stronger inclusion of dietary prevention of cancer in plans throughout Europe. The authors calls on all actors to share best practices and results in the joint endeavour to reduce the economic burden of cancer, which in 2010 alone was estimated at €166 billion and represents the second most common cause of death in the EU. Diet-related actions to fight cancer are cost-effective and efficient strategies to cut healthcare costs. Investments in dietary prevention measures can not only reduce cancer rates but also the risk of other non-communicable diseases, such as type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease.