Bad diet ups cancer risk for poor, black women

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Poor black women in U.S. cities face a greater risk of getting cancer because of unhealthy diets, according to a report released on Wednesday that says the finding applies to other ethnic groups.

The study of more than 150 women living in public housing in Washington, D.C., found that 61 percent of them met none or just one of five goals for maintaining a healthy diet.

The goals included adequate consumption of fruit and vegetables, a low percentage of fat intake, consuming no alcohol, eating moderate calories and adhering to a U.S. government Healthy Eating Index, which measures overall quality of diet.

“African-American women ... face a worse cancer incidence and mortality rate than most other ethnic groups and poor African-American women are at an even greater disadvantage,” said Ann Klassen, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“Improving diet is one effective way to help these women lower their risk for developing cancer,” Klassen said, adding that the women in the study went on to participate in a program aimed at improving nutrition.

Cancer risk can be assessed using measures that include diet, age, ethnicity and genetic factors. The study was relevant not just to black women in cities elsewhere but to poor women from other ethnic groups, researchers said.

The findings were presented at a conference in Atlanta of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Less than 1 percent of the women met all the ideal standards in each category, although 64 percent of the 156 women in the study reported drinking no alcohol on the days in which they were questioned.

Younger women were more likely to eat convenience foods and drink soda than older women even when eating meals with family, the report said, adding that young women appeared to lack the skills to build a well-balanced diet.

“We believe that there are structural factors in society that make it more difficult for low-income people to modify their lifestyle in a way that they might know are healthy,” said Klassen.

The study also found a link between depression, smoking and poor diet, and determined that women born in the U.S. capital were more likely to have an unhealthy diet than women who had moved to the city from elsewhere.

Editing by Jim Loney and Xavier Briand