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Diet, nutrition, and the life-course approach to cancer prevention

Journal of Nutrition
American Society for Nutrition
Publication Date
  • Body-Mass Index
  • N-3 Fatty-Acids
  • Growth-Factor-I
  • Breast-Cancer
  • Physical-Activity
  • Genetic
  • Susceptibility
  • Carbohydrate Feedings
  • Energy-Intake
  • Birth-Weight
  • Dutch Famine
  • Ecology
  • Geography
  • Medicine


Cancer results from the interaction of genetic susceptibility and environmental exposures. The diagnosis of cancer is age related; there is a marked increase in cancer incidence after the reproductive years. Nutrient and toxicant exposures are important contributors to the risk of some cancers. Nutrition, as a determinant of growth and body composition, also influences cancer risk, directly due to carcinogens in foods or indirectly by the hormonal and metabolic response to growth and obesity. There is strong evidence that obesity and rapid growth enhance the risk of cancer. The prevention of cancer should start before conception; mothers should start pregnancy with a healthy weight and avoid excessive or low weight gain during pregnancy. Key micronutrients are important for normal embryonic development and fetal growth. Infant growth should be assessed based on optimal health across all stages of the life course, rather than following the present approach of "bigger is better." This model may increase cancer risk in later life, because bigger is closely linked to fatter. Recent studies of energy expenditure in children indicate that excess energy intakes may have been recommended over the past decades, contributing to the surge in global obesity. Food preferences and habits regarding physical activity and play become set relatively early in life; parents and teachers provide key guidance leading to the adoption of a healthy or an unhealthy lifestyle. Thus, cancer prevention efforts should begin with childhood and continue through all stages of the life course.

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