Lifestyle changes could cut bowel cancer burden – In the News

Targeting six lifestyle factors could considerably reduce bowel cancer rates, according to a new study investigating risk factors for the disease.

Unhealthy food and healthy foodPublished today in the New Zealand Medical Journal, the study examined the bowel cancer risk factors associated with obesity, alcohol consumption, smoking and consuming red and processed meat – plus the benefits associated with physical activity. For relative risk, obesity came out on top at 9 per cent, followed by 7 per cent for alcohol and 5 per cent for red meat consumption. The researchers cautioned, however, that different risk factors can be linked – obesity and physical inactivity, for instance.

In an accompanying editorial, University of Otago’s Christopher Jackson and Diana Sarfati wrote that the only meaningful way to reduce cancer incidence was by primary prevention. “We know what many of these risk factors are – we simply lack the ability (or will) to influence their prevalence.”

University of Otago professor of colorectal surgery Frank Frizelle told Radio NZ that bowel cancer occured in people of all sizes, “it’s probably how you got obese, about the consumption of the foods that got you there”.

“But obesity is something you can measure, something that in their study they show stands out – but it is probably how they got there over a period of time that is actually more relevant.”

Bowel Cancer New Zealand spokesperson Sarah Derrett said more help was needed to ensure Kiwis could eat well. “Luxuries have become affordable, and essentials – healthy fruit and vegetables – are increasingly expensive and difficult for people to factor into their daily budgets. We need to turn that around.”

Read more about the research on

The findings were covered by some NZ media, including:

Radio NZ: Obesity responsible for 10 percent of bowel cancers Risks of getting bowel cancer could be avoided by six healthy steps, says study