Cancer charity suggests parents leave processed meat out of children's lunches

In collaboration with the Press Association

The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) - an international cancer charity - has advised parents to avoid giving children ham or other processed meats as part of their packed lunches as it could increase their risk of cancer in later life.

Research has shown a clear link between eating processed meat and an increased risk of bowel cancer.

The charity said that around 3,700 bowel cancer cases could be prevented if everyone ate less than 70g of processed meat - such as three rashers of bacon - each week.

While there has been no research into the impact of eating processed meat during childhood, the WCRF has pointed out that dietary habits are picked up early on in life and that products such as ham, bacon and salami should therefore not be given to youngsters on a regular basis.

Marni Craze, the charity's children's education manager, commented: "If children have processed meat in their lunch every day then over the course of a school year they will be eating quite a lot of it. It is better if children learn to view processed meat as an occasional treat if it is eaten at all.

"We also need to do more to raise awareness of the issue, as a recent survey has shown that two thirds of people in Britain do not know that eating processed meat increases risk of cancer. This is despite the scientific evidence about a link being convincing," Ms Craze added.

Simple sandwich fillers that can be used as an alternative to ham include poultry, fish, low-fat cheese, houmous or lean meat.

The WCRF also recommends avoiding high-fat, calorie-laden foods and sugary drinks as these can contribute to obesity, another major risk factor for cancer.

In fact, scientists say that maintaining a healthy weight is the second most important thing a person can do to reduce their risk of the disease, after not smoking.

Ms Craze observed: "With the large number of overweight and obese children in the UK, it is important that parents check the nutritional information on food to see if it is high in calories. If children are regularly eating high-calorie foods or sugary drinks then they are more likely to become overweight."

The expert suggested putting salad in sandwiches to count towards the recommended 'five-a-day' target for fruit and vegetable consumption.

She also advises giving children a fruit juice instead of a fizzy drink as another way to get them to consume fruit.

Yinka Ebo, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "We know that bowel cancer is more common among people who eat large amounts of red and processed meat and that cutting down will reduce your risk.

"It's a good idea to get into healthy habits when you're young, in the hope that they will last into adulthood. But there's nothing wrong with children having ham sandwiches every now and again - parents don't need to stop their children from eating red or processed meat altogether.

"Eating a diet that's high in fibre and low in red and processed meat, as well as being physically active and keeping a healthy weight, will help reduce the risk of bowel cancer."