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Parents urged to take ham off menu

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 70 g 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.

World Cancer Research Fund