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Poor diet, excess body weight, and physical inactivity are important risk factors for cancer. While research is ongoing to better understand the roles of these risk factors in cancer development, findings to date indicate that these factors can each individually affect cancer risk.

A diet rich in plant foods such as fruits and non-starchy vegetables is associated with a lower risk of certain cancers. This type of diet also tends to be low in red and processed meats, which are associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Alcohol increases the risk of cancer, and accounts for 4% of cancer deaths worldwide. In addition, dietary regimens and lifestyle factors can also have metabolic consequences (for example, hyperinsulinemia and inflammation), which could confer an increased risk of cancer.

Physical activity/inactivity and dietary factors can affect the risk of cancer.

Strength of evidence on physical activity/inactivity, dietary factors, and the risk of cancer

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Chart containing information which gives evidence that physical activity/inactivity and dietary factors can affect the risk of cancer

A diet rich in plant foods such as fruits and non-starchy vegetables is associated with a lower risk of certain cancers.

Overweight and obesity are associated with increased risk for certain cancers. Overweight and obesity are increasing in countries at all income levels. Emerging evidence also indicates that being overweight is associated with increased risk of cancer recurrence and decreased cancer survival.

Physical activity alone (regardless of body weight, diet, and other factors) is associated with reduced risk of certain cancers. Because physical activity helps prevent excess body weight, it also contributes to reduced risk of cancers associated with overweight and obesity. Thirty-one percent of adults worldwide do not meet the World Health Organization recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or the equivalent each week.

While personal lifestyle choices can reduce the risk of cancer, governments and civil society also have a responsibility to develop food and economic policies conducive to health, create environments that support physical activity, and develop interventions targeting children and youth.

Text alternative: Percentage of new cancer cases in high-income countries caused by excess body weight Illustration that shows the percentage of new cancer cases in high-income countries caused by excess body weight

For some cancer sites, excess body weight accounts for a large proportion of cases.

Percentage of new cancer cases in high-income countries caused by excess body weight

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“If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.”

Hippocrates