World Cancer Day's Theme Is To Promote Lifestyle Changes: Experts

World Cancer Day is this Saturday, and the global message is to encourage people to lower their individual cancer risk through healthy lifestyle choices.

World Cancer Day's Theme Is To Promote Lifestyle Changes: Experts

The difficulty of obtaining healthy foods in South Africa may increase the risk of cancer. A healthy diet, according to experts, is one of the simplest ways to reduce your risk of illness. World Cancer Day is this Saturday, and the message is to promote lifestyle modifications.

There is evidence that eating well can lower your risk of cancer, but experts warn that many South Africans may find this lifestyle change out of their price range due to rising food costs.

World Cancer Day is this Saturday, and the global message is to encourage people to lower their individual cancer risk through healthy lifestyle choices. The Cancer Association of South Africa stated that this includes a healthy diet, regular exercise, and avoiding substances like alcohol and tobacco that can cause cancer (Cansa).

On World Cancer Day, Lorraine Govender, national manager of health promotion for Cansa, stated that obesity is a growing public health issue in South Africa and that many of the factors that contribute to obesity may also contribute to colorectal cancer, which begins in the colon or the rectum.

According to the 2019 National Cancer Registry, this is the second most common cancer in men and the third most common cancer in women in South Africa.

“Cansa encourages public health organisations to inform the public about the dangers of unhealthy products, such as highly processed foods and drinks sweetened with sugar, and to provide recommendations for healthier substitutes. This is especially true given that it has been demonstrated that these risk factors raise the likelihood of this type of cancer,” Govender explained.

The number of people developing gastrointestinal cancer in South Africa is on the rise, according to Stellenbosch University’s African Cancer Institute. A shift in diet toward a higher intake of unhealthy processed foods has led to an increased risk of developing the disease.

Some of the most popular processed foods, such as bacon and other processed meats, contain carcinogens (substances that cause cancer), which are linked to a higher risk of developing gastrointestinal cancer.

Moodley stated on World Cancer Day that there were a number of barriers which prevented segments of the population from accessing healthy food.

He said that in urban areas, access to healthy food can sometimes be challenging as there is very little space to grow healthy vegetables. Those who work long hours may also find it difficult to prepare meals made from fresh ingredients, which could see them opting for time-saving takeaways instead.

In addition, it can be expensive to purchase certain types of unprocessed and healthier foods, making it more difficult for poorer families to afford a healthier diet. He added that culture and personal preference could also play a role in dietary choices.

South Africa’s chief public health officer Professor Moodley Moodley has called on the government to increase access to healthy foods and educate the public about the role diet plays in the development of cancer. “We need to be cognisant that South Africa is a resource-constrained country, and there might be some resistance to costly public health campaigns promoting healthy diets”.

Gareth Coetzee, dietitian and research assistant at the University of the Western Cape School of Public Health, added that certain foods have been clearly linked to an increased risk of developing cancer.

He said: Excessive consumption of alcohol, processed meats and red meat increase one’s risk for developing cancer.

Additionally, being overweight or obese also increases your risk – and the consumption of ultra-processed foods has been linked with an increased likelihood of overweight and obesity. There are also foods that decrease one’s risk for developing cancer.

The regular consumption of wholegrains, fibre-containing foods, dairy products, vegetables and fruit decrease one’s risk for developing cancer, says Vera Fordjour Afriyie.

She added: The right to food is prioritised in our Constitution, and both government and citizens have a shared responsibility in ensuring food security for all.

Rising food prices and inflation rates contribute to high levels of food insecurity in South Africa, according to a researcher at the University of the Western Cape’s School of Public Health. High levels of stunting and the growing incidence of overweight and obesity among infants, preschool children and adolescents is of concern.

In the National Food Consumption Survey 2022, over half of the survey respondents indicated that affording healthy food was an issue, and close to a third said availability of healthy foods was an issue.

According to Fordjour Afriyie, the first step in tackling food security is education and awareness. This includes making more nutritionists available at public healthcare facilities and enabling households to grow vegetables in their homes.

“We don’t have enough nutritionists in the public health care sector. In the long run, it would save the government money to hire more nutritionists instead of treating diseases caused by poor nutrition,” she said.

“In the case of households that can’t afford fruit and vegetables, that’s where the government needs to step in and educate the public on producing their own foods. They could supplement grants with seeds to enable more people to grow vegetables at home.”

Fordjour Afriyie stresses that meals should consist of starch, protein and fruits or vegetables, with the latter making up at least half of your plate. She suggests planning out meals for every week and looking for specials or bulk deals on fresh fruits and vegetables to make your shopping budget stretch further.

Megan Pentz-Kluyts, nutrition and dietetics consultant at Cansa, said there are options for those who struggle to access healthy foods.

She suggested making changes such as substituting meat for legumes and pulses or using frozen vegetables instead of fresh produce. Pentz-Kluyts also suggested cutting out sugary drinks in favour of herbal teas and water.

Pentz-Kluyts said that a healthier lifestyle could also include the way food is prepared, such as avoiding deep frying food in oil or reducing salt intake. Both of these would also save you money, she stressed.

She also suggested including exercise, such as going for a walk, in your routine. For those living in areas where it may not be safe to run or walk, Pentz-Kluyts suggested dancing at home.

Many South Africans are unable to eat a healthy diet because of the high levels of poverty and food insecurity in the country, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) nutrition director Dr. Richard Frank. Processed meats such as bacon and chicken are often eaten because they are a more affordable protein source than healthier alternatives, he said.