It can be hard to talk to people about the lifestyle choices needed to prevent negative health outcomes like cancer. But do people really know what causes cancer? We took to the streets to find out – and offer some practical tips on how to help people change unhealthy behaviours.

We wanted to find out about people’s awareness of cancer prevention, where they source their information from and what would help them to be healthier. So, along with the results of our recent YouGov survey, this is what we found out.

1. People are confused – they don’t know what causes cancer or where to get trusted health information from.

“I think there are so many different causes of cancer and the media seem to come up with a new one every week.”

Many people mentioned the headlines – and specifically, how off-putting it is to have so much conflicting information. Yet, when asked where they got their information from, people predominantly relied in the media or word of mouth, and didn’t have a trusted source to go to.

What you can do: recommend World Cancer Research Fund

Signpost people to our website or resources. As the leading authority on cancer prevention through lifestyle choices, our advice is easy to understand and practical. You can assure them that our Cancer Prevention Recommendations are based on the most up-to-date and thorough research – we will not make a recommendation based on just one study.

“I wouldn’t say I’m a cancer aficionado”

If you don’t feel confident in separating myths from facts, then complete our accredited, online cancer prevention training, free for health professionals who sign up to our free cancer prevention package.

2. Some people are more informed than you think – they want to be healthier, but something is stopping them.

“I think it’s making small changes and not having a great big grand plan”

In general, people know that healthy lifestyles are better for them. Almost everyone we interviewed wanted to be healthier – so it’s wrong to assume that some people don’t have the will. Having said that, our YouGov survey found that despite being most at risk, over-55s were less likely to want to live a healthier life than younger age groups.1

What you can do: give small practical tips

Making healthy changes to your lifestyle, particularly around losing weight, is often not sustainable if they’re drastic changes. Asking someone to cut down is more manageable than quitting. So, start with small, achievable goals. For example, using our Real Recipes twice a week will help them include more fibre and less processed meat in their diets.

3. People are under the misconception that ‘being healthy’ is expensive.

“It's more expensive to eat healthily”

As well as more information, most people felt that what would help them have a healthier lifestyle most is having cheaper healthy options and gym memberships.

What you can do: correct the myth that being healthy is expensive

Help people understand that eating a nutritious diet doesn’t have to be expensive. Cutting down on red meat and including more fruit and vegetables into your diet can often mean a cheaper weekly shop.

Being active doesn’t have to mean going to the gym – you can signpost people to local activity groups, or simply encouraging them to walk more will help protect them against cancer.

4. Social pressure affects drinking alcohol.

“Every social event pressurises you into drinking a lot”

Lots of people said they drink but would want to cut down – and it’s the social pressure of our drinking culture that makes them drink more. Many also said they would consider cutting down after hearing that alcohol causes cancer.

What you can do: give practical tips on drinking less and why it’s a good thing

Give your patients ideas on how to cut down, including alternating between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Also, explaining the short-term benefits of cutting down on alcohol, such as saving money or having fewer hangovers, may motivate your patients more.

Let us know if you have any tips on how best to encourage people to lead healthier lifestyles. Email us at informed@wcrf.org.

References

1. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size for the 2019 results was 2094 adults and fieldwork was undertaken between 15–18 February 2019. The surveys were carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).