The YouGov survey of 2,255 people, commissioned by World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), showed that about a third (32 per cent) of people aged 18 to 24 were aware of the link between processed meat and cancer.
This is despite convincing evidence that it increases risk of bowel cancer. In the UK, scientists estimate about 3,800 bowel cancer cases could be prevented if everyone ate less than 70g of processed meat a week, which is roughly the equivalent of three rashers of bacon. This is why WCRF recommends that people avoid eating it.
The average awareness was 38 per cent and was highest for 45 to 54-year-olds at 41 per cent.
The survey also showed that 56 per cent of people said that having a poor diet increases cancer risk, while 54 per cent are aware that being overweight is a risk factor. This is much lower than the 88 per cent of people who said smoking is a cause of cancer.
Kate Mendoza, Head of Education for WCRF, said: “We are concerned that awareness is so low and with processed meat, it seems the message is not getting through to young adults in particular.
“It is worrying that it is so low in this age group because it is never too early for people to start thinking about the kind of lifestyle changes that can reduce their risk of developing cancer in this way.
“Cutting processed meats such as bacon and ham out of our diets is a good idea at any age. And if you do not want to give them up completely, you can still take a step in the right direction by viewing them as a special treat rather than something that is part of your everyday diet.
“While levels of knowledge on the link between processed meat and cancer seem particularly low, we would like awareness for all risk factors to be much higher.
“ At the moment, for example, almost half of people do not know that what they eat affects their cancer risk, despite very strong scientific evidence that this is the case. And if people do not know how to reduce their risk then they are not in a position to make their own informed lifestyle choices.
“We want to reach the point where risk factors such as diet and body fat are as well known as the link between smoking and cancer, But there is clearly a lot of work to be done before this becomes reality.”
WCRF has a range of publications about how diet, physical activity and weight are linked to cancer risk and about how people can reduce their risk of the disease. These can be downloaded at www.wcrf-uk.org/publications
Notes to editors:
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.The YouGov research involved a total sample size of 2255 adults, was carried out online and undertaken between 19th and 21st May 2010. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults.
World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) raises awareness that cancer is largely preventable and helps people make choices to reduce their chances of developing the disease.
This includes research into how cancer risk is related to diet, physical activity, and weight management, and education programmes that highlight the fact that about a third of cancers could be prevented through changes to lifestyle. For more information on the charity’s work, visit www.wcrf-uk.org
The WCRF report, called Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective, was launched in November 2007 and is the most comprehensive report ever published on the link between cancer and lifestyle. For more information, visit www.dietandcancerreport.org