Sydney Morning Herald, March 19, 2012
A QUARTER of cancers could be prevented by 2025 through diet and exercise, saving hundreds of millions of dollars in the cost of treatment, a report in the Medical Journal of Australia has found.
Taking data on projected illness, and coupling it with published findings on the association between food, nutrition and physical activity in the prevention of cancer, the journal study found the incidence of cancer in Australia would rise to 170,000 in the next 13 years, an increase of 60 per cent since 2007. Intervention to improve health and environmental factors could reduce that by 43,000 or 25 per cent, it said in a report to be published today.
Contributing factors in the nation’s poor health include an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, the prevalence of overweight and obese adults, climbing rates of harmful alcohol consumption, and an unbalanced diet.
Pip Youl, one of the authors and the head of research at Cancer Council Queensland, said that fewer than 10 per cent of Australians ate the recommended five serves of vegetables a day and only 6 per cent ate two or more serves of fruit a day.
”Ways to encourage better eating are things like improving the number of whole-grain cereals and bread, choosing foods that are low in salt, choosing a low-fat diet, particularly diets that are low in saturated fats.
”One of the key things is teaching children to eat healthily. So getting them interested in cooking and eating healthy foods, and that will give them a really good start in life.”
Poor health had become an economic and geographic issue. The study suggested that ”inequities in cancer outcomes varied with remoteness or area disadvantage” and that ”increasingly the poor are becoming obese faster than the rich”.
With healthy food costing more than high-sugar, fat-soaked, nutritionally poor alternatives, Australians on lower incomes are more likely to make unhealthy food choices. Programs needed to be designed to accommodate different needs in different regions, Ms Youl said.
She said that even with awareness it was difficult to motivate populations to improve their health and governments must implement measures.
Ms Youl said it was critical to have a co-ordinated approach from state and federal governments to spend money on preventive measures to reduce the $3.8 billion a year in direct costs to the health system from cancer-related illnesses.
They needed to ”increase the expenditure on preventive health activities, because we know that treating cancer is very expensive. So if we can prevent it before it happens then we’ll certainly save some expenditure on cancer down the track”.
While only 2 per cent of the total health spending in 2007-08 was dedicated to preventive services or the promotion of good health, spending more on raising the profile of good nutrition and physical activity would save more than $674 million in 2025, the authors found.
”With an estimated 25 per cent of cancers preventable through improvements in diet and physical activity, governments at all levels must act now and act vigorously, in order to reduce the significant human and financial burden of cancer in the future.”