Preventable Cancer Burden Associated With Poor Diet in the United States

JNCI Cancer Spectr. 2019 May 22;3(2):pkz034. doi: 10.1093/jncics/pkz034. eCollection 2019 Jun.


Background: Diet is an important risk factor for cancer that is amenable to intervention. Estimating the cancer burden associated with diet informs evidence-based priorities for nutrition policies to reduce cancer burden in the United States.

Methods: Using a comparative risk assessment model that incorporated nationally representative data on dietary intake, national cancer incidence, and estimated associations of diet with cancer risk from meta-analyses of prospective cohort studies, we estimated the annual number and proportion of new cancer cases attributable to suboptimal intakes of seven dietary factors among US adults ages 20 years or older, and by population subgroups.

Results: An estimated 80 110 (95% uncertainty interval [UI] = 76 316 to 83 657) new cancer cases were attributable to suboptimal diet, accounting for 5.2% (95% UI = 5.0% to 5.5%) of all new cancer cases in 2015. Of these, 67 488 (95% UI = 63 583 to 70 978) and 4.4% (95% UI = 4.2% to 4.6%) were attributable to direct associations and 12 589 (95% UI = 12 156 to 13 038) and 0.82% (95% UI = 0.79% to 0.85%) to obesity-mediated associations. By cancer type, colorectal cancer had the highest number and proportion of diet-related cases (n = 52 225, 38.3%). By diet, low consumption of whole grains (n = 27 763, 1.8%) and dairy products (n = 17 692, 1.2%) and high intake of processed meats (n = 14 524, 1.0%) contributed to the highest burden. Men, middle-aged (45-64 years) and racial/ethnic minorities (non-Hispanic blacks, Hispanics, and others) had the highest proportion of diet-associated cancer burden than other age, sex, and race/ethnicity groups.

Conclusions: More than 80 000 new cancer cases are estimated to be associated with suboptimal diet among US adults in 2015, with middle-aged men and racial/ethnic minorities experiencing the largest proportion of diet-associated cancer burden in the United States.