A new study examines young people’s understanding of physical activity and how it can reduce bowel cancer risk.
Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer in women and the third most common in men globally. Furthermore, the second most common cancer-related death is due to bowel cancer. Several factors such as chronic illnesses, family history of bowel cancer, and lifestyles can impact the risk of colon cancer, and insufficient physical activity (PA) is one of the lifestyle factors that can increase the risk. Previous studies suggest that consistent PA throughout the lifespan gives the greatest protective effect against this disease. Thus, it is critical to promote PA among young people to prevent or reduce their risk of getting bowel cancer in the future.
A few studies examined how increasing risk appraisals for colon cancer can change the intentions of PA among adults.They found that informing people about the threat/danger of bowel cancer can motivate them to participate in PA. However, the method used to alter their perceptions of bowel cancer severity and the likelihood of getting the disease are unclear.
A new study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology explored young people’s risk appraisals of bowel cancer and the bases of their beliefs. 19 participants between 13 and 18 years of age were interviewed about their understanding of the physiological link between PA and bowel cancer, and beliefs about the likelihood of the illness. The researchers found that participants judged their risk of getting bowel cancer as low, based on a lack of family history of cancer and their current lifestyle (e.g., good diet, relatively high level of PA). Despite the fact that participants viewed cancer as a fatal illness, they showed little understanding of the effects of bowel cancer and its treatments. Furthermore, they struggled to explain how levels of PA contributed to bowel cancer risk, and held stronger beliefs that poor diet can increase the risk. Thus, this study revealed that young people may underestimate their risk of getting bowel cancer in the future and there is a critical need to increase awareness of the severity of bowel cancer in young people.
The authors note several limitations of the study. First, the study population was drawn from urban and suburban areas only. Second, interviewers may have influenced responses; for example, information provided to participants during the interview on the link between PA and bowel cancer may have altered their beliefs about the risk of illness. However, this research attests to the importance of providing young people with coherent and logical explanations on how protective behaviors such as PA work to reduce the risk of bowel cancer.
Written By: Boram Ham, PhD