Ham sandwiches are given to thousands of children every day in packed lunches. Many lunches for kids who don’t like sandwiches regard them as a healthy option. Now, however, parents are being urged not to put the sandwiches in their children’s lunch boxes – because of the cancer risk. Ham, bacon and other types of processed meat raise the risk of bowel cancer over a lifetime, according to a cancer charity.
Giving sandwich fillers such as ham and salami to children means they get into habits that increase their risk of developing cancer later in life, it claims. Healthier alternatives are fish, low-fat cheese, houmous, or small amounts of unprocessed, lean meat such as chicken. Scientists estimate that in the UK about 3,700 bowel cancer cases could be prevented if everyone ate less than 70grams of processed meat a week, which is roughly the equivalent of three rashers of bacon. The World Cancer Research Fund charity said that although the research has not specifically looked at the effect of eating processed meat in childhood, the ‘convincing’ evidence in adults makes it important to teach children to avoid it where possible.
Marni Craze, children’s education manager for the charity said: ‘If children have processed meat in their lunch every day then over the course of a school year they will be eating quite a lot of it. It is better if children learn to view processed meat as an occasional treat if it is eaten at all. We also need to do more to raise awareness of the issue, as a recent survey has shown that two thirds of people in Britain do not know that eating processed meat increases the risk of cancer. This is despite the scientific evidence about a link being convincing. The warning applies to meats that have been processed by smoking or having salt or additives put in them. The charity also says packed lunches that contain sugary drinks and items high in fat and calories could indirectly raise the risk of cancer by making children overweight – with the extra pounds carried into adulthood.