President's Cancer Panel: Cut Risks

Health: Colon Cancer- Man's Torso with pain spots, heart rate,
The President's Cancer Panel calls for U.S. leaders to "summon the political will" to reduce Americans' cancer risks — and slams the tobacco, food, and beverage industries as "disease vectors."

Appointed by the President Bush, the panel's three members are cancer survivor and cycling champion Lance Armstrong; Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D., chief academic officer at Houston's M.D. Anderson Cancer Center; and panel chairman LaSalle D. Leffall Jr., M.D., professor of surgery at Howard University in Washington.

It's the panel's job to tell the president how the nation's war on cancer is going. According to this year's report, it's not going very well at all.

Research continues to move forward — but thwarting major progress is the unhealthy lifestyles of millions of Americans.

Individual responsibility is important, the panel notes. But the panel finds that cancer prevention efforts "are compromised by federal, state, and local policies that have decreased the availability and affordability of healthy foods, limited physical education in schools," and created an "environment that discourages physical activity."

Perhaps even more importantly, the panel says, are "ineffective policies" that fail to regulate the marketing practices of "disease vectors" — the tobacco, food, and beverage industries.

Mincing no words, the panel report singles out the tobacco industry as "a vector of disease and death that can no more be ignored in seeking solutions to the tobacco problem than mosquitoes can be ignored in seeking to eradicate malaria."

Among the panel's recommendations:

  • Congress should structure farm supports to encourage production of fruits of vegetables and to limit subsidies promoting production of high-fructose corn syrup.
  • Encourage physical activity by helping communities build sidewalks, community centers, parks, and playgrounds.
  • Implement "fair food" policies similar to fair housing policies in order to improve urban communities' access to healthy foods.
  • Federal and state agencies should regulate and monitor food advertising targeted to children.
  • Reinstate and expand physical education in schools.
  • Employers should increase support for employee wellness programs.
  • Private and public health insurance should cover nutrition counseling and fitness programs.
  • Tobacco cessation services and medications should be a standard part of all health insurance.
  • The president and Congress should expand antismoking efforts, including a ban on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship and increased federal taxes on tobacco products.
  • Candidates for office — and their political parties — should refuse campaign contributions from tobacco companies and their subsidiaries.
  • Media aimed at children, teens, and young adults should stop portraying images of smoking.

    "Individuals can only adopt healthy lifestyles if they have the resources and opportunities to do so," the panel argues in a letter to the president. "We can and must empower individuals to make healthy choices through appropriate policy and legislation, and the panel urges you to use the power of your office toward this lifesaving goal."

    By Daniel DeNoon
    Reviewed by Louise Chang, M.D.
    ©2007 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved