The number of cancer cases is at its highest since records began. But the World Cancer Research Fund has said that many of these could be avoided by improved diet and regular exercise.

The highest cancer rates are found in the more developed countries and the UK comes in at 22nd in the top 50 list of countries with the worst cancer rates.

But cancer rates are also on the rise around the developing world.

There are now about 12 million new cases of cancer diagnosed every year. Many of these will have been triggered by a genetic or other trigger but about 25% are being linked to sedentary lifestyles, junk food, smoking and alcohol consumption.

Professor Martin Wiseman the medical and scientific advisor to the WCRF said ‘Cancer and other lifestyle-related diseases are one of the biggest challenges we face today, and the UN summit later this month is a real turning point.’

‘With millions of lives at risk around the world, the stakes are incredibly high. And while this is an issue facing millions globally, every day in the UK people are being diagnosed with a cancer that could have been prevented. People are still unaware that risk factors such as alcohol and obesity affect cancer risk while at the same time, from television advertising to the pricing of food, our society works in a way that discourages people from adopting healthy habits. But this summit offers the chance to look at public health issues at the international level.

But the tax on alcohol is huge and it hasn’t stopped people drinking too much. Just like the tax on fuel for cars hasn’t reduced the number of cars on the road much. So tax does not work to change peoples’ habits to any meaningful degree.

The only way ahead in my view is to bring up children to value their body as much as their mind. That means spending as much time on training them physically as it does educating their minds. They should be taught about diet and exercise from an early age.

Physical activity has been treated for too long now as something to be frowned on as if only the brain mattered so that the physical vehicle that carries it can be considered as insignificant and mistreated.

This approach may also lead to the reduction in drug taking.

You can cut the risk to yourself by:

  • Limit salt intake to 6 grams a day but don’t cut it out altogether.
  • Give up smoking.
  • Monitor your weight and stay within the normal weight range for your height.
  • Limit your drinking to within the recommended weekly levels.
  • Eat a wide and varied diet; remember the 5-a-day mantra.
  • Reduce the amount of red and processed meat you eat.
  • The sun is a good source of vitamin D, but don’t overdo it.
  • Take regular exercise, you need to increase the heart rate and get sweaty for it to be of use. If in doubt see your doctor before undertaking a strenuous exercise regime.
  • Breast feeding can help protect against breast cancer.

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