Healthy Eating and Active Living Research Highlights

Obesity, lack of physical activity, and poor diet are major risk factors for cancer – second only to tobacco use. According to Cancer Facts and Figures 2022, about 18% of cancer cases and 16% of cancer deaths are related to the combined effects of excess body weight, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, and unhealthy diet, and thus could be prevented. 

Spotlight on ACS Research Grantees

These are some of the healthy eating and physical activity (HEAL) investigators currently funded through extramural research grants by the American Cancer Society. They're working to find the answers that will save more lives and better prevent, treat, and manage cancer.

Keto Molecule May Help Prevent and Treat Colorectal Cancer

“We studied 6 groups of mice on different diets and found that the liver makes a specific ketone molecule in response to a ketogenic diet. That molecule greatly slows the growth of colorectal cancers.“What’s more is that we discovered the same protection may be accomplished by taking a supplement of that ketone. Clinical trials are being set up to study the use of that supplement in people with colorectal cancer.”—Maayan Levy, PhD

See the highlights for Dr. Levy's published study.


Improving Availability of Healthy Food Reduces Cancer Inequities

“It is too early to know how programs supported by the Agricultural Act of 2018 affected the long-term health of populations who have a higher risk of cancer due to their race/ethnicity, income, or the region they live in. But early outcomes have been largely positive.

“Over 70% of customers interviewed after the implementation of a Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) project reported buying more fruits and vegetables because it was easier to find them at the store. Consumers participating in nutrition incentive programs like The Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP) eat more fruits and vegetables, have greater food security, and see overall improvements in their health.”—Lisa Tussing-Humphreys, PhD

See the highlight about Dr. Tussing-Humphreys' published study.

45 Min/Day of Physical Activity May Help Prevent Some Cancers

“Our results show that if adults met recommended levels of physical activity, many cancer cases could potentially be prevented in the United States. State and local health departments may need to partner with a multitude of organizations to raise awareness, provide social support, and develop safe spaces to walk, bike, and play.”
—Adair Minihan, MPH

See the highlight about Adair Minihan's published study.


acs prevention studies

The American Cancer Society's Population Science department includes scientists who work with our large, on-going cancer prevention studies (CPS), such as CPS-II and CPS-3. Many of these studies are about healthy eating, active living, and obesity. Here's a sample of their work.

Adults May Benefit from Fewer than 10K Steps a Day

“Right now there are no public health guidelines that recommend the number of steps to take a day to gain health benefits. The World Health Organization, The US Physical Activity Guidelines, and the American Cancer Society guidelines all focus on being physically active at a moderate-to-vigorous intensity for at least 150 minutes a week. We haven’t had the scientific evidence to recommend the number of steps per day associated with health benefits.

“In this study, we found consistent associations across 15 studies from various countries, age ranges, and step-monitoring devices, which gives us more confidence that there’s a clear link between taking more steps and having a lower risk of dying from all causes. This paper in itself cannot set a number of steps to take a day, but we’re hoping that this study will provide some useful evidence when future public health guidelines are developed.”—Amanda Paluch, PhD

See the highlight about Dr. Paluch's published study, supported by several ACS researchers.


Yogurt & Cottage Cheese May Lower Risk of ER- Breast Cancer

An ACS CPS-II Nutrition Cohort Study

“This study analyzed 21 cohort studies to learn more about the precise dairy and high-calcium foods that may increase or decrease the risk of developing breast cancer. We found a ‘modest’ inverse association between ER-negative breast cancer and eating higher amounts of yogurt and cottage/ricotta cheese. That means women who ate more of these foods had a moderately lower risk of developing ER-negative breast cancers, which tend to grow fast and have fewer treatment options.

“Interestingly, we only saw this cancer protection in studies that did not include women in the US or Canada but only in studies we analyzed about women in Australia, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, and Sweden. These regional differences may be due to differences in food regulations, food processing, farming, or content nutrients.”
—Marjorie McCullough, ScD, RD

See the highlight about Marjorie McCullough's published study.


Study Shows Caffeinated and Decaffeinated Coffee Have Different Risks for Colorectal Cancer

A CPS-II Nutrition Cohort Study

“In a previous ACS study that used data from the full 1.2 million men and women in the CPS-II cohort, we found that coffee drinkers who didn’t smoke had a lower risk of death from colorectal cancer, and their risk was slightly lower if they drank decaffeinated coffee.  

“To explore further, in this study we looked at coffee drinkers who developed colorectal cancer in the CPS-II Nutrition cohort. We found that only those who drank decaffeinated coffee had a lower risk of colorectal cancer, regardless of their smoking status. Next, we’ll examine stool samples from CPS-3 participants in the Gut Microbiome Sub-study to learn more about the relationship between caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee with the gut microbiome.”–Caroline Um, PhD, MPH, RD

See the highlight about Dr. Um's published study.