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Diet and exercise position statement

Obesity Prevention Policy

We know that overweight and obesity, physical inactivity, poor diet and drinking alcohol all contribute to cancer risk. There are also indications that a healthy lifestyle can improve quality of life for cancer patients and reduce the risk of the disease recurring.

Much of the evidence of these links has emerged only in the past decade. It continues to be a busy area of research and one that has attracted significant media and public interest. There are almost daily reports of new research claiming certain foods can reduce our cancer risk, exposing the public to messages which are often conflicting and inconsistent.

Cancer Council can help you interpret this information, and provides clear recommendations on how you can minimise your cancer risk through improved nutrition and physical activity.

If you want further information about how you can reduce your cancer risk, visit the causes and prevention section or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

The obesity chapter, which also covers overweight, physical activity and nutrition, of our Prevention Policy provides comprehensive information on the role these factors play in cancer, including statistical data, the evidence base, policy context and priorities.

Cancer Council Australia's Nutrition, Alcohol and Physical Activity Committee has developed a number of position statements addressing the link between nutrition and cancer.

Sugar-sweetened beverages

The consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with increased energy intake and in turn, weight gain and obesity. It is well established that obesity is a leading risk factor for some cancers.

The term ‘sugar-sweetened beverages’ refers to all non-alcoholic, water-based beverages with added sugar, including sugar-sweetened soft drinks, energy drinks, fruit drink, sports drinks and cordial.

The consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is particularly high among young Australians, men, and in lower socio-economic groups.

This position statement outlines Cancer Council Australia's recommendations to encourage children and adults to reduce their consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Sugar-sweetened beverages

Benefits of healthy diet and physical activity for cancer survivors

More than a quarter of a million Australians have survived cancer. These men and women may be at increased risk of other health problems which could be reduced through lifestyle changes.

This position statement, developed by Cancer Council's Nutrition, Alcohol and Physical Activity Committee, summarises the evidence about the impact of lifestyle factors on quality of life, cancer recurrence and overall survival. It covers body weight, physical activity, diet, diet supplements, alcohol use and food safety, and makes recommendations based on this evidence.

Benefits of healthy diet and physical activity for cancer survivors

Front-of-pack food labelling

Front-of-pack labelling can support consumers to select healthier food products and encourage industry to produce healthier foods. Currently, food labels do not present nutrition information in a way that is easily understood or that encourages consumers to make healthy choices.

Government intervention is required to ensure that an interpretive front-of-pack nutrition labelling system that can be understood by all consumers is available on all food products.

Cancer Council recommends that consistent and interpretive front-of-pack food labelling be introduced into the Australian grocery market to encourage shoppers to make healthier choices. This should be part of a broader obesity prevention strategy and be supported by a social marketing campaign that enables and encourages Australians to use food labels to make healthier choices.

Front-of-pack labelling

Food marketing to children

Restricting unhealthy food and beverage marketing to children has been recognised by the World Health Organization as an important area for action in the prevention of obesity.

Reviews have found that children are not fully aware of the persuasive intent of food marketing and that food marketing influences the food preferences of children, generate positive beliefs about the foods advertised, influences purchase requests of children, and influences children's food consumption.

Research on food marketing to children from Australia has focused primarily on measuring exposure to television food advertising. This research has consistently shown that children are exposed to high levels of unhealthy food advertisements on television.

Cancer Council recommends that Government develop specific food marketing regulations which restrict the marketing to children of unhealthy food and beverage, determined using nutrient profiling, across all media.

Importantly, any regulatory system must reflect children's media use, including the broadcast periods when the highest numbers of children are watching or using media, and the types of persuasive marketing techniques used to target children.

Food marketing to children

Food taxes

Currently 63% of Australian adults and around one in four Australian children have overweight or obesity. 

As obesity is a modifiable risk factor for cancer, it is important that a range of appropriate policies and strategies to promote healthy eating and reduce overweight and obesity are implemented within the community.

Food taxes have been proposed or introduced in a number of countries as part of efforts to improve diets, address rising rates of obesity and reduce diet-related chronic disease. This position statement assesses the evidence relating to the effectiveness of food taxes and subsidies to improve public health in Australia and overseas.

Food taxes

Explore our Prevention Policy.