Cancer Prevention Report Finds Smoking Down, Obesity Up

American Cancer Society
Wednesday, 28 April 2004

American Cancer Society Says Policy Initiatives Could Save Many Lives

A new report on cancer prevention trends from the American Cancer Society shows while American are smoking less, obesity is reaching epidemic proportions and screening for certain cancers is still well below targeted levels. The publication, Cancer Prevention & Early Detection Facts and Figures 2004 (CPED) details the most current data on modifiable risk factors and screening behaviors that affect cancer incidence, mortality and survival.

This year for the first time CPED highlights community, legislative, and environmental policy initiatives that can reduce the excess burden of cancer to the nation, including tobacco avoidance, physical activity, nutrition, and cancer screening. Also for the first time, CPED includes a discussion of cancer prevention measures in children and adolescents.

"The health of young people, and the adults they will become, is critically linked to the establishment of healthy behaviors in childhood," says Ralph B. Vance, MD, FACP, national volunteer president of the American Cancer Society. "Almost 90 percent of adult smokers are addicted at or before age 18 and 70 percent of youngsters who are overweight by adolescence will remain overweight as adults."

Highlights of Cancer Prevention & Early Detection Facts and Figures 2004:

  • The prevalence of tobacco smoking among high school students has decreased since 1997, but remains high, with 28.5 percent reporting having smoked at least one day in the last 30. Decreases can be attributed, at least in part, to rising cigarette prices and youth-oriented educational campaigns.
  • The percentage of overweight children and adolescents increased dramatically in the late1980s and throughout the 1990s.
  • Per capita cigarette consumption and the national prevalence of smoking have declined steadily since the release of the U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health in 1964. Nevertheless, 25.2 percent of men and 20.7 percent of women still smoke cigarettes.
  • Money collected through the Master Settlement Agreement provides a source of funding for comprehensive tobacco control programs. However in 2001 states allocated an average of just $1.70, or about six percent, of the $28.35 per capita received from the tobacco settlement to tobacco control programs.
  • In 2003, 22 more municipalities went smoke free, bringing the total number of municipalities where local laws restrict smoking to more than 1,600.
  • In the U.S., obesity has reached epidemic proportions during the last decade. In 2002, 58.8 percent of adults were overweight including 21.9 percent who were obese. A high body mass index (BMI) is significantly associated with increased death rates for 11 types of cancer in men and 12 types of cancer in women.
  • Despite steady increases in the percentage of women receiving recommended Pap tests and mammograms, rates of screening are lowest among those without health insurance, among those with less than a high school education, and among recent immigrants.
  • Screening for colorectal cancer remains well below targeted levels for all population groups.

"Applying what we now know could reduce the cancer death rate by approximately half," said Michael Thun, MD, vice president of epidemiology and surveillance research at the American Cancer Society. "What we're missing is a sustained commitment to apply this knowledge. For example, we know targeted media campaigns are effective at reducing adolescent smoking. Yet, in recent years, three states with successful campaigns, Minnesota, Florida, and Massachusetts, have drastically reduced funding for youth anti-tobacco programs. The CDC's National Breast and Cervical Cancer Program has detected more than 14,000 breast cancers, more than 55,000 pre-cancerous cervical lesions, and more than 1,000 cervical cancers among low income women. Yet, this program is able to reach only 15 percent of eligible women. Grass roots and public health advocacy efforts are needed to encourage local, state and federal lawmakers to make these critical investments in the nation's health."

To ensure progress is made in cancer prevention and early detection, the report recommends: 1) Continued advocacy efforts to increase state excise taxes to reduce teen smoking, as well as media campaigns to counter the perception of smoking as cool and rebellious and state funding for comprehensive tobacco control programs; 2) The development of strategies to prevent obesity and promote healthy lifestyles, including successful community initiatives to improve nutrition and increase physical activity and to limit children's television and video time to two hours per day; and 3) Increased funding of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Breast and Cervical Cancer Program, which provides screening examinations to low income women, and state legislation to ensure that private health insurance covers all available methods of colorectal cancer screening.

The report can be viewed online by visiting the American Cancer Society Web site at

For more information, or to contact American Cancer Society, see their website at:

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