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Parents urged to take ham off menu

17 August 2009

A cancer charity has urged parents whose children have packed lunches not to put ham and other types of processed meat in their sandwiches.

Ahead of the new school year, World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) has warned that including sandwich fillers such as ham and salami could mean children get into habits that increase their risk of developing cancer later in life.

There is convincing scientific evidence that eating processed meat increases bowel cancer risk and this is why WCRF recommends people avoid eating processed meat. In the UK, scientists estimate about 3,700 bowel cancer cases could be prevented if everyone ate less than 70g of processed meat a week, which is roughly the equivalent of three rashers of bacon.

The research has not specifically looked at the effect of eating processed meat in childhood, but because the evidence in adults is convincing, and it makes sense for children to begin to adopt a healthy adult eating pattern from the age of five. WCRF advises it is best for children to avoid it as well as many of the habits we develop as children last into adulthood.

Instead of putting processed meat in children’s sandwiches, the charity is advising that parents instead switch to fillings such as poultry or fish, low-fat cheese, houmous, or small amounts of lean meat.

Marni Craze, Children’s Education Manager for WCRF, said: “If children have processed meat in their lunch every day then over the course of a school year they will be eating quite a lot of it. It is better if children learn to view processed meat as an occasional treat if it is eaten at all.

“We also need to do more to raise awareness of the issue, as a recent survey has shown that two thirds of people in Britain do not know that eating processed meat increases risk of cancer. This is despite the scientific evidence about a link being convincing.”

As well as avoiding processed meat, WCRF is urging parents to avoid lunch box fillers that are high in fat and calories and regularly including sugary drinks. This is because eating frequent or large portions of food that is high in calories can lead to a child becoming overweight and the more overweight a child is, the more likely they are to be overweight as an adult. Scientists now say that, after not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight is the most important thing we can do for cancer prevention.

But some high-energy products are specifically marketed as ideas for children’s lunchboxes. For example, Sainsbury’s lists Peperami in the “kid’s lunchbox” section of its website, even though it is 44 per cent fat. As well as being processed meat, just one 25g Peperami stick contains 126 calories and 11g of fat.

Ms Craze added: “With the large number of overweight and obese children in the UK, it is important that parents check the nutritional information on food to see if it is high in calories. If children are regularly eating high-calorie foods or sugary drinks then they are more likely to become overweight.

“Putting ham or high calorie snacks in your child’s sandwich might seem like a convenient option, particularly for parents who do not have a lot of time to prepare their child’s lunchbox.

“But packed lunches are a part of a child’s diet that is relatively easy to control and it does not have to take too much time or effort to prepare a healthy lunch.

“For example, putting some salad into a sandwich will count towards the five portions of fruits and vegetables children should be eating every day. And a small fruit juice instead of a fizzy drink will also give a portion. Also, chicken that has not been processed, fish, houmous or low fat cheese are easy and quick alternatives.”

WCRF runs the Great Grub Club website (, which encourages children to adopt healthy habits. This includes a section for parents with information about how WCRF’s Recommendations for Cancer Prevention relate to children.


For more information contact Richard Evans on 020 7343 4253.

Notes to editors:

  • The term “processed meat” refers to meats preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or by the addition of preservatives. Examples include ham, bacon, pastrami and salami, as well as hot dogs and some sausages. Hamburgers and minced meats only count as processed meat if they have been preserved with salt or chemical additives.
  • As well as recommending people avoid processed meat, WCRF also recommends limiting intake of red meat to 500g (cooked weight) per week. This is because there is also convincing evidence that red meat increases risk of bowel cancer.

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About WCRF

World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) raises awareness that cancer is largely preventable and helps people make choices to reduce their chances of developing the disease.

This includes research into how cancer risk is related to diet, physical activity, and weight management, and education programmes that highlight the fact that about a third of cancers could be prevented through changes to lifestyle. For more information on the charity’s work, visit

The WCRF report, called Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective, was launched in November 2007 and is the most comprehensive report ever published on the link between cancer and lifestyle. For more information, visit


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