Updated Diet, Physical Activity Guidelines for Cancer Prevention


The updated guidelines include increased recommended physical activity levels and a growing emphasis on holistic rather than nutrient-based dietary habits.

Based on the most current evidence, the American Cancer Society has released updated guidelines for diet and physical activity for cancer prevention, including increased recommended physical activity levels and a growing emphasis on holistic rather than nutrient-based dietary habits.1

These updates are based on systematic reviews conducted by the International Agency on Cancer Research, the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research, and the US Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services.1

“The guideline continues to reflect the current science that dietary patterns, not specific foods, are important to reduce the risk of cancer and improve overall health,” said Laura Makaroff, DO, senior vice president of prevention and early detection at the American Cancer Society, in a statement.2

Previous recommendations suggest that adults should have at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week. The new guidelines increase these times, saying adults should have 150-300 minutes of moderate activity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous activity each week.1

Dietary recommendations were also updated. The previous measures said adults should consume a healthy diet with an emphasis on plant-based foods and should choose foods and beverages in amounts that help achieve a healthy weight. They added that consumption of processed meats and red meats should be limited, and adults should consume at least 2.5 cups of vegetables and fruits each day.1

The new guidelines urge people to follow healthy eating patterns at all ages, including foods that are high in nutrients, such as a variety of vegetables and fruits, and contain whole grains. Healthy eating patterns should limit red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, and highly processed foods and refined grain products, according to the new recommendations.1

“There is no one food or even food group that is adequate to achieve a significant reduction in cancer risk,” Makaroff said. “Current and evolving scientific evidence supports a shift away from a nutrient-centric approach to a more holistic concept of dietary patterns. People eat whole foods—not nutrients—and evidence continues to suggest that it is healthy dietary patterns that are associated with reduced risk for cancer, especially colorectal and breast cancer.”2

The recommendations also say it is best not to consume alcohol, but those who do should limit their consumption to no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men.1

Finally, in addition to the dietary and activity recommendations, the committee included advice for community action. Public, private, and community organizations should work together at all levels to develop and implement policy and environmental changes, according to the guidelines. These changes should increase access to affordable and nutritious foods; provide safe, enjoyable, and accessible opportunities for physical activity; and limit alcohol use for all individuals.1


  • Rock C, Thomson C, Gansler T, et al. American Cancer Society Guideline for Diet and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians; June 9, 2020. https://acsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.3322/caac.21591. Accessed June 11, 2020.
  • American Cancer Society Updates Diet & Physical Activity Guideline for Cancer Prevention [news release]. American Cancer Society; June 9, 2020. http://pressroom.cancer.org/DietPhysicalActivity2020. Accessed June 11, 2020.

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