Another Study Links ‘Ultra-Processed’ Foods to Higher Cancer Risk

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WEDNESDAY, Feb. 1, 2023 (HealthDay News) — Fizzy sodas, microwaveable meals and packaged cookies are convenient for people on the go, but these folks might not go as far as they’d like if that’s all they eat.

Ultra-processed foods appear to increase the risk of developing and dying from a variety of cancers, a new large-scale study says.

Every 10% increase of these foods in your diet increases your overall risk of cancer by 2% and your risk of a cancer-related death by 6%, researchers reported Jan. 31 in eClinical Medicine.

The risk is even higher for specific cancers, particularly those that primarily affect women.

For example, every 10% increase in a woman’s consumption of ultra-processed foods makes her 19% more likely to develop and 30% more likely to die from ovarian cancer, the investigators found.

The researchers describe ultra-processed foods as “industrial formulations made by assembling industrially derived food substances and food additives through a sequence of extensive industrial processes.”

Industrially derived ingredients include things like high-glucose corn syrup, modified starch, protein isolates, emulsifiers, stabilizers and preservatives, the study authors said.

“Our bodies may not react the same way to these ultra-processed ingredients and additives as they do to fresh and nutritious minimally processed foods,” lead researcher Kiara Chang, a research fellow with Imperial College London’s School of Public Health, said in a college news release.

“However, ultra-processed foods are everywhere and highly marketed with cheap price and attractive packaging to promote consumption,” Chang continued. “This shows our food environment needs urgent reform to protect the population from ultra-processed foods.”

Ultra-processed foods make up 57% of the average American’s daily calories, up from 53% in 2001, noted Marjorie McCullough, senior scientific director of epidemiology research at the American Cancer Society.

For this study, Chang and her colleagues analyzed records for nearly 200,000 participants in the UK Biobank, an ongoing health study of people in England, Scotland and Wales.

Part of the Biobank research involved people filling out questionnaires regarding their diet. Records also were kept on who developed and died from 34 types of cancer.

The researchers tracked participants for 10 years and found out that the more people chowed down on ultra-processed foods, the higher their risk of cancer.

This could be because highly processed foods are calorie-dense and therefore are more likely to make a person fat, McCullough said. “Eating highly palatable ultra-processed foods is linked to excess body weight, itself a risk factor for at least 13 cancer types,” McCullough said. “These foods are usually higher in sugar, refined grains and fat, and may impact metabolism differently than whole, unprocessed or minimally processed foods.”

These foods — and their packaging — also contain loads of chemicals that could contribute to cancer risk, said Dr. Emanuela Taioli, co-leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at Mount Sinai’s Tisch Cancer Institute, in New York City.

“They are treated with preservatives, with chemicals that preserve their freshness. And most of the time, they are in containers that are plastic or other material that is known to be one of these environmental cancer risks from endocrine disruptors,” Taioli said. “Then when they are warmed up, we don’t really know what happens to the chemistry of the preservatives, which with the heat can become other compounds that are carcinogens.”

The presence of endocrine-disrupting chemicals like BPA and PFAS could explain, in particular, the increased risk in women’s cancers, Taioli said.

“These compounds modify hormone patterns or behave as hormonal,” Taioli said. “The body sees more hormones because these chemicals look like hormones, so they affect cancers that are very hormone-sensitive. From these results it seems like the role of endocrine disruptors should be explored further.”

Excess fat is also a known risk factor for both breast and ovarian cancer, McCullough said.

To lower their cancer risk, as well as their risk of heart disease and other ailments, people should opt for fresh foods as much as possible, McCullough and Taioli said.

“The American Cancer Society recommends following a healthy diet that includes a variety of colorful vegetables and whole fruit, fiber-rich legumes, whole grains and limiting or not including red and processed meat, sugar-sweetened beverages and highly processed foods and refined grains,” McCullough said.

Nations should take steps to protect their citizens from the health effects of these foods, Chang said, urging the use of front-of-pack warning labels for ultra-processed foods to aid consumer choices.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about the cancer risk from obesity.

SOURCES: Kiara Chang, MSc, research fellow, Imperial College London’s School of Public Health; Emanuela Taioli, MD, PhD, co-leader, Cancer Prevention and Control Program, Mount Sinai’s Tisch Cancer Institute, New York City; Marjorie McCullough, ScD, RD, senior scientific director, epidemiology research, American Cancer Society; eClinical Medicine, Jan. 31, 2023, online  

February is American Heart Month!

Did you know that people who have close relationships at home, work, or in their community tend to be healthier and live longer? One reason, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), is that we’re more successful at meeting our health goals when we work on them with others. NHLBI launched the #OurHearts movement to inspire us to protect and strengthen our hearts with the support of others.

Here are some facts, how-to tips, and resources to inspire you to join with others, even if you can’t be physically together, to improve your heart health.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Most middle-aged and young adults have one or more risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or being a smoker or overweight. Having multiple risk factors increases your risk for heart disease.

Why Connecting is Good for Your Heart

Feeling connected with others and having positive, close relationships benefit our overall health, including our blood pressure and weight. Having people in our lives who motivate and care for us helps, as do feelings of closeness and companionship.

Follow these heart-healthy lifestyle tips to protect your heart. It will be easier and more successful if you work on them with others, including by texting or phone calls if needed.

  • Be more physically active.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat a nutritious diet.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Reduce stress.
  • Get 7-9 hours of quality sleep.
  • Track your heart health stats.

You don’t have to make big changes all at once. Small steps will get you where you want to go.

Move more

Invite family, friends, colleagues, or members of your community to join you in your efforts to be more physically active:

  • Ask a colleague to walk “with you” on a regular basis, put the date on both your calendars, and text or call to make sure you both get out for a walk.
  • Get a friend or family member to sign up for the same online exercise class, such as a dance class. Make it a regular date!
  • Grab your kids, put on music, and do jumping jacks, skip rope, or dance in your living room or yard.

How much is enough? Aim for at least 2½ hours of physical activity eachweek—that’s just 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. In addition, do muscle strengthening exercises 2 days a week. Can’t carve out a lot of time in your day? Don’t chuck your goal, chunk it! Try doing 10 minutes of physical activity at least three times a day. NHLBI’s Move More fact sheet has ideas to get and keep you moving.


Aim for a healthy weight

Find someone in your friend group, at work, or in your family who also wants to reach or maintain a healthy weight. (If you’re overweight, even a small weight loss of 5–10 percent helps your health.) Check in with them regularly to stay motivated. Agree to do healthy activities, like walking or cooking a healthy meal, at the same time, even if you can’t be together. Share low-calorie, low-sodium recipes. Check out NHLBI’s Aim for a Healthy Weight web page.

Eat heart-healthy

We tend to eat like our friends and family, so ask others close to you to join in your effort to eat healthier. Follow NHLBI’s Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan. Research shows that, compared to a typical American diet, it lowers high blood pressure and improves cholesterol levels. Find delicious recipes at NHLBI’s Heart-Healthy Eating web page.

Quit smoking

To help you quit, ask others for support or join an online support group. Research shows that people are much more likely to quit if their spouse, friend, or sibling does. Social support online can help you quit. All states have quit lines with trained counselors—call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669). You’ll find many free resources to help you quit, such as apps, a motivational text service, and a chat line at BeTobaccoFree.hhs.gov and Smokefree.gov.

If you need extra motivation to quit, consider those around you: Breathing other people’s smoke, called secondhand smoke, is dangerous. Many adult nonsmokers die of stroke, heart disease, and lung cancer caused by secondhand smoke.

Manage stress

Managing stress helps your heart health. Set goals with a friend or family member to do a relaxing activity every day, like walking, yoga, or meditation, or participate in an online stress-management program together. Physical activity also helps reduce stress. Talk to a qualified mental health provider or someone else you trust.

Improve sleep

Sleeping 7–9 hours a night helps to improve heart health. De-stressing will help you sleep, as does getting a 30-minute daily dose of sunlight. Take a walk instead of a late afternoon nap! Family members and friends: remind each other to turn off the screen and stick to a regular bedtime. Instead of looking at your phone or the TV before bed, relax by listening to music, reading, or taking a bath.

Track Your Heart Health Stats, Together

Keeping a log of your blood pressure, weight goals, physical activity, and if you have diabetes, your blood sugars, will help you stay on a heart-healthy track. Ask your friends or family to join you in the effort. Check out NHLBI’s My Heart Health Tracker.

For more information about heart health, visit www.heartttruth.gov.

Article courtesy of the National Institute of Health https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/education/american-heart-month

What Happens to My APWU Health Plan Insurance When My Child turns 26?

If your child is turning 26 soon you may need to make some insurance coverage changes.

Your child’s health insurance coverage continues for no charge for 31 days after their birthday. After that, they are not covered under your FEHB Health Benefits plan.

If your child still needs insurance coverage the Health Plan will send them a letter with instructions on how to enroll in our conversion plan insurance option. Your child can purchase a Temporary Continuation of Coverage from your current insurer or buy health insurance through the marketplace (www.heatlhcare.gov).

If you want to stay in a Self and Family Health Benefits Plan, typically insuring more than two people, you do not need to take any action.

If you want to change your health insurance plan type to cover two or less people, you need to contact your payroll office. They will be able to switch your plan type for you and reduce the premiums taken from your paycheck. The APWU Health Plan is an insurance carrier and can’t make this switch for you as it impacts your paycheck.

You can learn more about this process by visiting the OPM website https://www.opm.gov/healthcare-insurance/life-events/memy-family/my-childs-status-is-changing/.

Tick-Tock goes the clock for Open Season!

Don’t wait till the last minute, check out our great benefits today, especially those almost to good to be true (but aren’t) *APWU Consumer Driven Rates! Family $35.01, Self plus one $32.09, Self only $14.77 a pay period www.apwuhp.com

*95% contractually negotiated discount applies to active Career APWU Bargaining Unit employees, who have been enrolled in an FEHB plan for one year

Thanksgiving Day

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As the year draws to a close I reflect on all that I am thankful for. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as your Health Plan Director. I am grateful for the hard work of the Health Plan employees and for their continuing excellence in serving our members.

The APWU Health Plan offices are closed on Thursday, November 24 and Friday, November 25 to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. Our offices reopen on Monday, November 28, 2022.

The APWU Health Plan Board and Staff would like to wish our members a happy Thanksgiving Holiday. We are thankful for our health plan members; without you, there would be no APWU Health Plan. I hope to have you with us in 2023.

Happy and healthy holiday to you and your families!