Candy for Cancer

By Analiese Paik

I am extremely wary of cancer organization fundraisers in general, but my jaw just about dropped when I saw this one yesterday. In a medical office no less. Full of caring medical professionals and staff who undoubtedly work with cancer patients.

An American Cancer Society fundraiser in a medical office promotes unhealthy eating. However unintentional, it's wrong-minded.

How could they fail to see the irony of raising money for the American Cancer Society through the sale of industrial candy laden with sugar (which we as a nation eat way too much of) and highly processed ingredients that are nowhere to be found on the recommended list of foods that improve human health? Let’s follow the logic: sell unhealthy candy to make more people unhealthy (or unhealthier) in order to raise money in support of sick people? Isn’t it really promoting poor eating habits that lead to more illness? Couldn’t the basket have been filled with organic fruit, something we all agree promotes good health? I left shaking my head because these were good people, but they didn’t have a clue.

I fought the urge to say something. What do you say to nice people who are doing something that’s well intentioned but so wrong-minded?

And what does the American Cancer Society have to say about this? I searched online and found their fundraising guidelines for the New England Division. Not a mention about selling candy or anything else that promotes poor health. That does not, however, absolve them of responsibility for the impact of unhealthy fundraisers that benefit them.

Clearly the American Cancer Society is aware of the link between diet, overweight/obesity and cancer. The following are excerpts from the American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention.

Body weight and cancer risk
About 2 out of 3 Americans are overweight or obese.
In the United States, excess body weight is thought to contribute to as many as 1 out of 5 of all cancer-related deaths. Being overweight or obese is clearly linked with an increased risk of several types of cancer:
  • Breast (among women who have gone through menopause)
  • Colon and rectum
  • Endometrium (lining of the uterus)
  • Esophagus
  • Kidney
  • Pancreas
Being overweight or obese also likely raises the risk of other cancers:
  • Gallbladder
  • Liver
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Cervix
  • Ovary
  • Aggressive forms of prostate cancer
Does sugar increase cancer risk?
Sugar increases calorie intake without providing any of the nutrients that reduce cancer risk. By promoting obesity, a high sugar intake may indirectly increase cancer risk. White (refined) sugar is no different from brown(unrefined) sugar or honey with regard to their effects on body weight or insulin levels. Limiting foods such as cakes, candy, cookies, and sweetened cereals, as well as sugar-sweetened drinks such as soda and sports drinks can help reduce calorie intake.
  • Choose vegetables, whole fruit, and other low-calorie foods instead of calorie-dense foods such as French fries, potato and other chips, ice cream, donuts, and other sweets.
  • When you eat away from home, be especially mindful to choose food low in calories, fat, and added sugar, and avoid eating large portion sizes.

I’d like to see the American Cancer Society immediately pledge to establish healthy guidelines for fundraisers that are in line with their Guidelines for Nutrition for Cancer Prevention and that support their mission statement. Why they haven’t already done so is a mystery.

American Cancer Society mission statement

The American Cancer Society is the nationwide, community-based, voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by preventing cancer, saving lives, and diminishing suffering from cancer, through research, education, advocacy, and service.

Passively endorsing candy fundraisers flies in the face of ACS’s nutrition recommendations and undermines their mission. Now that’s wrong-minded.

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