preventing cancer
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World Cancer Research Fund’s Policy & Public Affairs Manager, Fiona Sing, outlines what governments and society should be doing to prevent cancer and other non-communicable diseases

At World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), we are dedicated to the prevention of cancer through diet, weight and physical activity. Around 40% of cancer cases are preventable if everyone were to have a healthy lifestyle, such as not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active and eating a healthy diet. We analyse global research on the link between diet, nutrition, weight, physical activity, and cancer, turning the latest evidence-based research into practical, straightforward advice and information to help anyone who wants to reduce their risk of developing cancer, known as our Cancer Prevention Recommendations. These recommendations are intended to be a comprehensive package of behaviours that, when taken together, promote a healthy pattern of diet and physical activity to reduce cancer risk. They are also designed to help inform policy action.

Public policy is critically important in creating environments for people and communities that are conducive to following the WCRF Cancer Prevention Recommendations. For example, what food is available and affordable and how accessible physical environments are for active ways of life are largely outside people’s direct personal control. These factors are often shaped by policies beyond the health sector, such as planning and transport policies, and taxes. Governments play a pivotal role in introducing policies that create these healthier, less obesogenic environments.

That’s why we created NOURISHING: a framework that outlines what policy areas governments should be focusing on to encourage healthy diets and reduce is a database that gives examples of implemented policies from all over the world, including restrictions on the marketing of junk food to children, taxes on unhealthy food and beverages, food labelling, and subsidies on healthy food.

However, governments are not taking sufficient action to meet global non-communicable disease (NCD) targets. Part of the reason for this is that policymakers are increasingly facing barriers and challenges to developing and implementing evidence-informed nutrition policies that help to tackle NCDs.

At WCRF, we interviewed policy experts, advocates and academics from different countries to find out what these challenges are, creating a series of reports called Building Momentum. These reports take the lessons learnt from governments who have implemented specific evidence-informed nutrition policies and collates them with the published literature to succinctly outline how to design and implement a robust nutrition policy, providing essential guidance on how to overcome common barriers and challenges in the nutrition policy process.

The first report in the series looked at sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) taxes and the second focused on front-of-pack food labels. The third in the series will look at restricting junk food marketing to children.

Common elements were identified across the reports that are important for the development and implementation of robust nutrition policies that can withstand challenges.

These challenges include a lack of public and political will, trade and legal challenges, and the influence of the food and beverage industry. We provide overarching lessons to overcome these challenges and obstacles, such as carefully considering the local context; using evidence as a foundation; setting clear policy objectives; carefully designing the policy; setting a plan or stakeholder engagement and; including monitoring and evaluation early on in the process. And of course, being prepared for push-back from those opposed to the policy measure.

The prevention of cancer and other NCDs is one of the most significant public health challenges of the 21st century, requiring a whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach in response. Governments should prioritise prevention by introducing evidence-informed policy actions that make our environments healthier so that it is easier for people to make healthy choices.


Fiona Sing

Policy & Public Affairs Manager

World Cancer Research Fund International

Tel: +44 (0)20 7343 4200


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