You want to eat healthy foods, but your vending machine at work offers only sweets and high fat snack chips. Maybe you’d like walking to do errands instead of driving, if only your neighborhood had sidewalks. Your American Cancer Society knows that there’s work to be done to make all communities better able to help people eat healthier and be more active. Here we discuss our recommendation for community action, as detailed in our 2020 Guideline for Diet and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention. We will also give you some ideas on what you can do to make changes where you live and work.
The American Cancer Society has issued a call for communities to remove barriers that prevent people from enjoying a healthy lifestyle. Public, private, and community organizations should work together at national, state, and local levels to create, push for, and apply policy and environmental changes that:
Social, economic, and cultural factors strongly affect a person’s body weight, physical activity, diet, and alcohol intake. Most Americans would like to adopt a healthy lifestyle, but find it hard to follow diet and activity guidelines.
Researchers have identified some things that are helping to make Americans physically inactive and overweight or obese. For instance:
The current increase in overweight and obesity is a special concern in certain groups, particularly children, who are establishing life-long behaviors that affect health.
Many Americans face obstacles to leading healthy lifestyles, but the challenges are often greater for people with lower incomes, racial and ethnic minority groups, people with disabilities, and people who live in rural communities, who often face additional barriers.
Policy and environmental changes will be needed to help Americans follow healthy diets and be physically active. And help couldn’t come at a better time. About two-thirds of Americans are now overweight or obese. Heart disease, cancer, and diabetes – lifestyle related diseases – claim hundreds of thousands of lives every year.
In the workplace – Many people spend most of their days at work. Employers can offer healthy food options in the vending machines and cafeteria, inexpensive access to a gym, and work-based health programs.
One person can make a difference in their work environment with these ideas:
In the community – With rapid urban and suburban growth, parks and recreation facilities are quickly disappearing, taking away prime places to exercise. There’s increasing evidence linking poor access to sidewalks, parks, and recreation facilities to greater obesity risk. Neighborhoods that make it easy to walk, play, and exercise safely have less obesity. Voice your concerns by voting for sidewalks, parks, gyms, bike paths, and green space.
Make change happen by:
Access to supermarkets has been linked to healthier diets with more vegetables and fruits, and lower rates of obesity. Studies have shown that many low-income communities tend to have poor access to healthy, affordable, high-quality foods. Limited access to supermarkets often results in people shopping for food at nearby convenience stores, where healthy food options are fewer, of lower quality, and cost more. Even in neighborhoods with supermarkets, low-income residents may buy cheaper, higher-calorie foods to save money. People with low incomes tend to eat more low-cost foods, which often have less nutritional value.
If you live or work near a low-income area, you can help by:
In schools – Many schools don’t require health and physical education (PE) classes, and many have cut recess to spend more time in the classroom. Talk to the school board about:
You and other concerned parents can take the lead by:
Find more information about community nutrition and exercise programs by calling your American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345.
The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Last Revised: October 18, 2021
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