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Cancer Prevention Action Week – the Great British Sarnie Swap

This opinion piece is over 1 year old

Cut out processed meat to beat disease

Most of us know that it is important to live a healthy life; it can help reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases - but these things are often easier said than done.

There are many tactics being used to entice us towards unhealthy choices. From adverts on TV to multi-buys in shops, the environment that we live in is not conducive to a healthy lifestyle. Add the cost of living into the mix, and for many, healthy options are taken out of our hands.

World Cancer Research Fund examines how diet, weight and physical activity affect cancer risk and surviving cancer. We then use this evidence to influence government and industry to create healthy environments and support health professionals and individuals to make healthy choices.

Individuals play an important role in their own health choices and those of their children, though we know it is not always easy. One way we reach the public with our messages and engage them is through our yearly Cancer Prevention Action Week. The week is all about encouraging people to take action, and a first step towards a positive change, which can hopefully help reduce their risk of developing cancer.

Great British Sarnie Swap

This year World Cancer Research Fund’s Cancer Prevention Action Week runs from 20 – 26 February. The theme for 2023 is cutting down on processed meat to help reduce the risk of bowel cancer. Eating little, if any, processed meat is part of one of our organisation’s Cancer Prevention Recommendations. There are 10 Recommendations, which also include maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active.

We understand that telling people to stop eating processed meat will not work for many reasons and change cannot happen overnight. To raise awareness of the message and to get people involved we launched the Great British Sarnie Swap. The campaign is asking people to swap the processed meat in their sandwich out for healthier and affordable alternatives.

Why processed meat and bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, but 54% of these cases could be prevented. World Cancer Research Fund evidence shows that eating even very small amounts of processed meat on a regular basis will significantly increase people’s risk of bowel cancer.

People who regularly eat processed meat have on average a 16% increased risk of developing bowel cancer for every additional 50g that they eat, compared to those who do not eat processed meat. Our recent poll found that six in 10 people are not aware that processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer.  

How to reach the public

To go alongside the Great British Sarnie Swap, we created a number of different assets such as recipe ideas, a processed meat quiz and social media shares. Throughout CPAW we are encouraging people to use our hashtags during the week alongside pictures of their sandwiches. We have particular day themes, such as #MeatFreeMonday and #TomatoTuesday.

We will follow up with those who engage with the campaign to find out whether they were able to take part in the #SarnieSwap and support them in making lasting changes to ultimately reduce their cancer risk.

We also polled the British public on what their favourite sandwich fillings are, whether they are aware of the link between processed meat and bowel cancer, and whether they would consider giving processed meat up.

You might not be surprised to find out that Britain’s favourite processed meat filling is bacon. By polling the public, we get an insight into their eating habits but also their knowledge of processed meat. It also helps us create a media interest story which, coupled with our expert advice, can help reach millions of people we wouldn’t otherwise.

We also work with other organisations and coalitions like the Scottish Cancer Prevention Network to reach their supporters with our campaign message.

We will follow up with those who engage with the campaign to find out whether they were able to take part in the #SarnieSwap and support them in making lasting changes to ultimately reduce their cancer risk.

Melanie Marks Purnode is PR consultant at World Cancer Research Fund.