Imperial College London

Following lifestyle recommendations could reduce risk of death by a third

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A landmark study has backed advice about diet and lifestyle from the World Cancer Research Fund.

People who follow the seven diet and lifestyle recommendations have a 34 per cent reduced risk of dying from several diseases compared to people who don’t follow the recommendations, according to the research.

Researchers investigated nearly 380,000 people in nine European countries over 12 years and examined their diet and lifestyle to see how closely they complied with seven of the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) recommendations for cancer prevention.

Dr Teresa Norat, from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, who led the research, said: “This large European study is the first that shows there is a strong association between following the WCRF/AICR recommendations on body weight, physical activity, diet, alcohol consumption and breastfeeding and a reduced risk of dying from cancer, circulatory diseases and respiratory diseases.

“We compared the group of participants with the strongest adherence to the guidelines to those with the weakest adherence to calculate the level of risk reduction that would come from concordance with the recommendations.

 “Now further research is needed in other large populations to confirm our findings.”

Those who most closely followed the WCRF/AICR recommendations had a 50 per cent reduced chance of dying from respiratory disease, 44 per cent for circulatory disease and 20 per cent for cancer, when compared to the group with the lowest level of compliance.

The recommendations with the greatest impact on reducing the risk of death from disease were being as lean as possible without becoming underweight (22 per cent reduced risk) and eating mostly foods of plant origin (21 per cent).

For cancer deaths, limiting alcohol consumption and following the plant food guidelines reduced risk by the most, at 21 per cent and 17 per cent respectively.

Dr Anne-Claire Vergnaud, also from the School of Public Health at Imperial, who conducted the analysis and is the first author of the paper, said: “This is the first study to examine breastfeeding as part of a package of lifestyle changes to see what effect it has on risk of dying. We showed that women who breastfed more than six months had a reduced risk of death from cancer and circulatory disease.

“It was also the first time that a study examined the relationship between adherence to diet and lifestyle recommendations and respiratory disease deaths.

“Our study supports the role of lifestyle recommendations in preventing cancer, circulatory and respiratory diseases. Further research is needed to understand how to reduce the disease burden worldwide and how to encourage people to follow the recommendations.”

The recommendations, concerning body fat, physical activity, consumption of foods and drinks that promote weight gain, consumption of plant foods, meat, alcoholic drinks and breastfeeding, were taken from the 10 cancer prevention recommendations in the WCRF/AICR 2007 Second Expert Report. Salt intake, which the guidelines advise should be low, was not included because it is difficult to assess. Smoking is not included in the score because the recommendations are on nutrition-related factors, but the researchers took into account in their analyses the smoking status of the participants.

The research was funded through the WCRF International grant programme and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Based on a news release by the World Cancer Research Fund.

Reference

A-C Vergnaud et al. 'Adherence to the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research guidelines and risk of death in Europe: results from the European Prospective Investigation into Nutrition and Cancer cohort study' Am J Clin Nutr May 2013. First published April 3, 2013, doi: 10.3945/​ajcn.11

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