Ifigeneia Bourgiezi is a clinical dietician MSc, working as Research Funding and Science Activities Officer at World Cancer Research Fund International
Cancer is one of the main causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide, and low and middle-income countries (LMICs) are no exception. While the incidence of infection-related cancers such as cervical cancer is decreasing in these countries, cancers that are linked to the westernisation of lifestyle, such as breast and colorectal cancer, are on the rise.
Obesity in LMICs
Obesity is linked to an increased risk of 11 cancers, which is worrying as obesity is on the rise in LMICs. During our recent conference on obesity, physical activity & cancer (OPAC2), Dr Ellen Kampman explained that LMICs are increasingly adopting westernised diets and more sedentary lifestyles, which are responsible for the growing rates of obesity in these countries. These changes in dietary and physical activity habits, in combination with the late detection and diagnosis, the insufficient screening tests and the limited access to proper treatment, have unfortunately resulted in high cancer mortality rates in LMICs.
What action should be taken?
In order to prevent the rates of both obesity and cancer in LMICs spiralling out of control, there needs to be more awareness in these populations that diet, weight and physical activity can affect their cancer risk. Cancer prevention should therefore be a focus of public health messaging in all countries and there should be more investment in cancer prevention research.
Governments in LMICs also need to create policies that make it easier for people to make healthier choices. A successful example of this is the recent implementation of a tax on sugary drinks in Mexico. This policy made sugary drinks more expensive for consumers, which encouraged people to choose a healthier drink instead. As a result, purchases of sugary drinks in Mexico have decreased, in particular among lower socio-economic groups. If more LMICs were to take similar actions, this could have a very positive effect indeed.
We also need to see healthcare systems in LMICs strengthened in their ability to provide early diagnosis and appropriate treatment. This will make a huge difference to the cancer survival rates in these regions.
The time to act is now
Many LMICs need to take immediate action to reduce their cancer burden and increase cancer survival in their populations. World Cancer Research Fund is actively supporting this goal by encouraging people to follow 10 evidence-based recommendations to prevent cancer, supporting research on cancer prevention and survival and influencing global food policy at the highest level.