Many unaware of link between poor diet and cancer

In collaboration with the Press Association

Over 40 per cent of people in Britain are unaware that eating a poor diet may increase their risk of developing cancer, new research shows.

A survey commissioned by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) questioned 1,986 adults in January about their knowledge of lifestyle risk factors for the disease.

The results reveal a worrying lack of awareness, with just 59 per cent of people recognising the link between diet and cancer, despite strong evidence of the benefits of a diet high in fruit and vegetables, with low levels of alcohol, salt and high-calorie foods.

- Henry Scowcroft, science information manager, Cancer Research UK

Only three in ten respondents knew of the link between eating processed meat and cancer, despite a WCRF report published in November 2007 which found that eating 150g of processed meat each day - such as bacon and ham - increases a person's risk of bowel cancer.

Those who were most informed tended to be aged between 35 and 44 years, while 18 to 24-year-olds were the least aware.

Lisa Cooney, head of education at the WCRF, said: "The scientific evidence is clear that people can reduce their risk of cancer through eating healthily and reducing their intake of things like alcohol and processed meat.

"But these results show that there are still millions of people in Britain who are unaware of how they can take simple steps to reduce their cancer risk. This means they are not in a position to make informed lifestyle choices."

The survey also found that only 56 per cent of people knew that being overweight increases a person's risk of cancer, while just 42 per cent were aware that a lack of exercise increases the risk of the disease.

Henry Scowcroft, science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: "Our own surveys have also found similar results. Despite substantial evidence that our lifestyles have a big influence over our risk of cancer, we still need to do more to raise awareness of this link."

But this research shows that awareness levels are increasing. A similar survey conducted in August 2007 found that even fewer people were aware of the links between cancer and diet (54 per cent), body fat (47 per cent) and lack of exercise (33 per cent).