Over-55s less likely to understand a bad diet could give them cancer

Baby boomers are less likely to know having a bad diet and drinking too much alcohol could give them cancer compared to those in Generation Z

  • People in their 50s, 60s and 70s are less likely understand the risks of their diet
  • And a third of 18 to 24-year-olds don’t know their diet can cause cancer
  • Experts said the difference may be because of where people get information 

Older people don’t understand the links between cancer and their diet as well as younger generations, a survey has revealed.

Only 58 per cent of baby boomers know what they eat and drink could give them cancer – and even a third of 18 to 24-year-olds don’t understand the connection.

The World Cancer Research Fund survey asked more than 2,000 adults in the UK how much they knew about the links.

Experts warned people’s knowledge of risks posed by unhealthy eating and drinking could be directly linked to their long-term health.  

A survey has uncovered people in their 50s, 60s and 70s are less likely than younger generations to understand that a poor diet could increase their risk of cancer (stock image)

The survey found 64 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds know alcohol increases cancer risk, compared to 59 per cent of baby boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 – The Guardian reported.

But over-55s are more aware of the dangers of processed meats like ham, bacon and sausages, with 62 per cent of them aware of the cancer risk.

Fewer than half (48 per cent) of Generation Z – people born in the mid 1990s to early noughties – said they know about the dangers of processed meat.

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Head of research at the WCRF, Susannah Brown, said the way people learn about their food could be a reason for the generational gaps.

‘The different age groups seem to be aware of different risk factors and it could potentially suggest that the sources they are using get this type of information from could perhaps be influencing them,’ she said.


Cancer Research UK said one in 20 cases of cancer could be prevented if people ate more healthily.

People with poor diets are more likely to be obese, which has been proven to contribute to cancer. 

It is believed to be the second biggest preventable cause of cancer in the UK, and excess weight to account for more than five per cent of cases.

The risk increases simply because obese people have more cells in their body, thus more potential for something to go wrong.

Red and processed meat have been classed as carcinogens by the World Health Organization.

They increase the risk of bowel cancer, potentially because they contain DNA-damaging chemicals.

Eating too much salt can raise the risk of stomach cancer by damaging the lining of the organ, experts say, which can make it more likely to absorb cancer-causing chemicals or can cause damaging inflammation. 

Alcohol, which is broken down by the body into a toxic chemical and also changes people’s hormonal balance, has been shown to cause seven types of cancer.

It can cause cancer of the mouth, breast, bowel, liver, upper throat, voice box and oesophagus. 

Sources: NHS and Cancer Research UK 

Ms Brown said it is possible younger people are getting their information from social media instead of traditional news – but did not explain how this may improve their awareness.

What you eat and drink is well established as a contributing factor to people’s risk of developing cancer.

Alcohol is known to directly cause mouth, breast, bowel and liver cancers, and multiple types of throat cancer.

It does so because the body breaks it down into a toxic, DNA-damaging chemical as it digests it.

Cancer Research UK says around one in 20 cancers could be prevented by healthier diets.

Eating a lot of red and processed meats increasses the risk of bowel cancer because they contain damaging chemicals, and large amounts of salt can lead to stomach cancer by damaging the lining of the stomach.

In a more surprising result, nearly one in five (18 per cent) Millennials – 25 to 34-year-olds – don’t think of smoking as a risk factor for cancer.

That is compared to only nine per cent of baby boomers.

Some 80 per cent of over-55s understand that cancer can be caused by genetics, while that figure is just 74 per cent for 25 to 34-year-olds.

And the survey found people who are wealthier have a better understanding of their health.

While 69 per cent of middle class people acknowledged a link between a poor diet and cancer, only 52 per cent of working class people did.

Ms Brown added: ‘We are aware that socioeconomic status does affect health outcomes, and perhaps it shows that it is from awareness right through to actually what the lifestyle patterns are that could perhaps be influencing that.’

She added it was encouraging that a poor diet is a ‘modifiable’ risk factor for cancer, meaning if people become more aware they can work to improve their own health.

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