The American Cancer Society’s annual Great American Smokeout takes place this week, shifting the public’s focus toward cancer prevention. Cigarettes are an easy target, since their link to cancer is well-publicized, and the vast majority of smokers already want to quit.
But despite the drop in smoking, cancer rates are still high. So we need to go several steps further. The next culprits are processed meat products, such as bacon, hot dogs, and deli meats. Just as tobacco attacks the lungs, processed meats attack the digestive tract.
The World Cancer Research Fund says the link between processed meat and cancer is so strong that it should be avoided completely. The EPIC study results published earlier this year show that eating processed meat is linked with a 44 percent increased risk of death. A recent study from the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that colorectal cancer survivors who consume large amounts of processed meat are at a 29 percent higher risk of death from general causes and a 63 percent higher risk of death from heart disease.
While tobacco products have been the object of labeling efforts designed to maximize risk awareness, processed meat products have gone under the radar. Mayor Bloomberg just signed new legislation raising the legal purchasing age of cigarettes from 18 to 21. If he and other politicians truly have their constituents’ health in mind, they will make the same efforts to label and restrict the purchase of hot dogs and other processed meat products. But consumers certainly don’t have to hold out for a new law to can the cigarettes, scrap the bacon, or share a healthful recipe with some friends. Positive change can happen anytime—so start now and help lead the cultural shift towards better health.