Body fat, dieting and cancer; Abdominal training
February 2008
Shape Up America! Newsletter


Thank You!
Shape Up America! sends a thank you to the American Dietetic Association for including a review of our Web site in the January issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. It is found under Sites in Review on page 169 of the journal.

Is Your Weight Loss Diet Preventing or Promoting Cancer?
by Barbara J. Moore, PhD
Survey after survey shows that a majority of Americans are dieting to lose weight. A new cancer report spotlights the importance of stemming body fatness to prevent cancer, but at the same time the report's findings show how some dieting strategies are better than others when it comes to cancer prevention.

Evidence shows that only a small proportion (5 to 10 percent) of cancers can be traced to genetic inheritance. Most cancers are a consequence of environmental factors including diet, lifestyle and body composition — especially body fatness. A cancer can develop in a number of different organs or sites throughout the body and a common characteristic of all cancers is the unregulated multiplication of cells.1 Each cell in your body contains a full set of genes and those genes direct the cell multiplication process. Occasionally a defect, or mutation, occurs in one of the genes, and the cellular multiplication process spins out of control. In that sense, cancer is a "disease of genes, which are vulnerable to mutation, especially over the long human lifespan," according to a new report, Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective2, published by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). It is the cumulative effect of environmental damage that causes mutations, explaining why cancers tend to occur more often in older people.

A novel but useful way to look at cancer prevention is to think about factors within your control that will stabilize your genes and make them more resistant to mutation. The big news in the WCRF/AICR report is that managing your weight is key to cancer prevention, and that recommendation receives top billing.

Here, we summarize the evidence in the WCRF/AICR report about body fatness and cancer risk. This article also discusses how some popular dieting strategies for decreasing body fatness can raise or lower the risk of certain cancers. The bottom line is that losing excess weight in the form of fat will reduce cancer risk, but the goal should be weight loss achieved in a healthful manner using strategies that reduce the risk of cancer.

Elevated body fatness is linked to cancers in the esophagus, pancreas, gallbladder, liver, colon and rectum, breast (in postmenopausal women), endometrium and kidney. The following table summarizes the quality of the evidence linking elevated body fatness to the increased risk of these cancers. Note that the evidence of highest quality is identified in the table as "convincing." This means there are a good number of well-designed, published studies of sufficient magnitude and rigor that show an association of increased body fatness with an elevated risk of cancer at that site. Evidence of intermediate quality is identified as "probable," and evidence of lowest quality is identified as "suggestive."

For most sites, the increased body fatness (noted as √) associated with increased cancer risk means a body mass index of 30 or higher in males and females. For certain cancer sites, abdominal obesity (noted as X) means increased fatness in the upper body, and is usually indicated by a waist circumference of 40 inches or higher in males and 35 inches or higher in females.

Site of Cancer Convincing Evidence Probable Evidence Suggestive Evidence
Pancreas X  
Gall Bladder    
Colon/Rectum √ X    
Breast (post-menopause) X  
Endometrium X  

Column headings refer to the strength of the evidence linking increased body fatness to increased cancer risk.
"√" indicates body fatness is linked to an increased risk of cancer at the site in the left column.
"X" indicates increased abdominal fat is linked to increased risk of cancer at the site in the left column.

Source: World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. Washington DC: AICR, 2007.

An important feature of the WCRF/AICR report is that it examines the relationship of specific components of diet and lifestyle that are linked to cancer risk. Many of these dietary or lifestyle factors are included in popular diets, and while some are helpful for both weight management and reducing cancer risk, others are not.

For example, the Atkins Diet is notorious for allowing the liberal use of meat like beef, ham and bacon, which is high in saturated fat and cholesterol. The WCRF/AICR report defines "red meat" as beef, pork, lamb and goat from domesticated animals and "processed meat" as meat preserved by smoking, curing, salting or the addition of chemical preservatives. The report considers the evidence "convincing" that both red meat and processed meat significantly raise the risk of colorectal cancer. It also reports "suggestive" evidence that red meat raises the risk of cancer in the esophagus, lung, pancreas and endometrium, and that processed meat raises the risk of cancer in the esophagus, lung, stomach and prostate. There are several studies suggesting that the Atkins Diet can produce significant weight loss, but weight loss should be pursued from a broader perspective, one that embraces good health as well as taking off pounds.

>From a health perspective, the WCRF/AICR report is quite helpful since it summarizes the data on four diet and lifestyle factors — physical activity; fiber/fruit/vegetables; dietary fat; and alcohol — that not only affect weight control, but also cancer risk. If you are trying to manage your weight, it makes sense to consider whether these factors are addressed before choosing a weight loss program or book.

In summary, since increased cancer risk is associated with elevated body fatness, the WCRF/AICR report gives achieving and maintaining a healthy weight top priority. A careful reading of the report reveals how important it is to accomplish weight control by adopting dietary and lifestyle behaviors that are themselves protective against many types of cancers.

To achieve the goal of healthy weight management, check out the Shape Up America! free online Shape Up & Drop 10® program. Shape Up & Drop 10 is a comprehensive weight management program that incorporates all four of the beneficial strategies discussed above to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. Shape Up & Drop 10 is consistent with the recommendations of the WCRF/AICR report that relate to weight management and cancer prevention. If you are overweight, now is a great time to lose some pounds while reducing your cancer risk.

Abdominal Training
by Michael Roussell
This month we are going to review abdominal crunches. The crunch is an exercise that will help you develop core strength and protect your back from injury. The basic crunch is now the most popular abdominal exercise, replacing sit-ups, which fell from favor because they caused back pain in many people. While most people know how to perform the basic abdominal crunch, we are going to touch on a few points that will help make the crunch more effective.

First, let's look at the basic mechanics. To start, lie on your back, bend your knees and draw them up so that your feet are now flat on the floor. Next, make sure your knees are together and your feet are parallel to each other. Now draw your heels back toward your butt, stopping when your heels are 1 to 2 feet away. Now you are in the proper starting position.

The key with abdominal training is quality not quantity. If you are doing crunches correctly, an intense burn should resonate from your stomach after about 7 to 10 crunches. There are a couple of ways to make this happen. The first thing to do is increase the mind-muscle connection. By focusing on the muscle at work, you will achieve a more effective workout. You can accomplish this by putting your finger tips on your abdominal muscles, focus on your finger tips and feel your abs contract. Putting your hands on your stomach and not behind your head will prevent you from pulling on the back of your head. Avoid pulling or straining as that causes much of the neck pain associated with abdominal crunches.

Now you are ready to start the movement. Don't think of the movement as sitting up; instead you want to crunch so that you are decreasing the distance between your rib cage and your belly button. By focusing on crunching in this manner, you will better stimulate your abdominal muscles.

The final tip for maximizing your abdominal workout is to obtain a peak contraction with every crunch. At the top of the crunching movement, you should hold the muscle contraction for at least a count of two. (To get the correct tempo, say "one, one thousand, two, one thousand" in a measured, rhythmic way.) And then release to the starting position. To further intensify the contraction, at the peak you can forcibly exhale the air in your lungs.

Goal Level Sets/Reps Action Per Week
Beginner Work up slowly to ONE set of 15-20 reps Perform 2 times per week
Intermediate TWO sets of 15-20 reps Perform 2-3 times per week
Advanced THREE sets of 15-20 reps Perform 2-3 times per week

When you apply this technique in a conscientious manner, it will be obvious after a few reps that quality is more challenging than quantity. But remember, for a toned, trim abdominal region, lifestyle changes that involve a disciplined diet and exercise are as important as the number of crunches you do.

Menus for Weight Loss and Healthful Eating
Shape Up America! offers these simple, convenient 1500 calorie and 2000 calorie menus to help you eat healthfully while controlling your calories. If you have any suggestions or comments, feel free to e-mail us at

My Story
Shape Up America's 10,000 Steps program gave Tyler the impetus to change the way she lived. Now 85 pounds lighter, she's well on her way to achieving her weight loss goals!

First of all I want to thank you for what you are doing. Your program has helped me turn my life around. One year ago I was sitting on my couch weighing 350 pounds. I was miserable. I desperately wanted to change but it felt impossible. I would commit to eat healthier or try to exercise but nothing worked. My friend told me about "10,000 Steps." It was a start that seemed realistic and something I could do. As I began walking more, my entire mindset changed: I could change how I lived! By being able to conquer the goal of "10,000 Steps," I was able to conquer my weight. I am now 265! Thank you for all you do!

If you would like to share your personal success story and be an inspiration to others who desire to lose weight, simply use our story submission system on the SUA Web site.

Recipe of the Month
Starting your meal with a high fiber, broth-based soup, like the tasty one below, can help fill you up without adding a lot of calories.
Carrot and Apple Soup
Makes 4 servings


  • 1 Tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium leek, chopped
  • 1 pound peeled carrots, cut in 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 3 cups fat-free, reduced sodium chicken broth
  • Milk or fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth, as desired (optional)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 Tbsp. minced mint, for garnish (optional)


  1. Heat oil in medium Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium-high until hot. Sauté onion and leek until onion is translucent, 4 minutes.
  2. Mix in carrots and apple. Tightly cover pot, reduce heat and cook gently until vegetables give up most of their juices, 8 to 10 minutes. Add broth. Cover and cook until carrots are very soft, about 30 minutes.
  3. Let soup sit, uncovered, about 20 minutes, to cool slightly. Purée soup in a blender or food processor, if necessary in two batches. (Blender makes a smoother soup.) If soup is too thick, add milk or broth, as desired. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve garnished with mint.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 132 calories, 4 grams total fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 23 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams protein, 5 grams dietary fiber, 496 milligrams sodium

Source: American Institute for Cancer Research.

phone: 406-686-4844

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Editor: Adrienne Forman, MS, RD

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