Scottish Cancer Prevention Network | Putting Prevention First


Professor Annie S. Anderson

Professor Annie S. Anderson BSc PhD RD FRCP (Edin) is Co-Director of the Scottish Cancer Prevention Network and Professor of Public Health Nutrition at the University of Dundee. Annie graduated in 1979 as a dietitian, and after two years clinical practice, has pursued a research career with posts in the Universities of Cambridge, Aberdeen, Glasgow and the MRC Medical Sociology Unit. Her main interests lie in understanding factors that influence lifestyle change (principally diet and obesity) and the impact of theory based, behaviourally focused, dietary and obesity interventions (policy, practice and individual) in relation to cancer and other chronic disease risk reduction.

Dry Drinking The Sociable Way

Every time I show the slide that says “35% of Scottish women aged over 50 drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week,” I am reminded that this includes me.  I would not describe myself as a heavy drinker, but I do drink more than I know is appropriate for my health. From my research on alcohol intake in women and breast cancer risk, I know that I am not alone in being reluctant to discuss the pleasure of red wine consumption with health professionals.

I certainly drink more than my mother did, and my daughters drink more than I do, so I feel the extra guilt of being a poor role model. To ease my conscience I have joined in dry January for the last 4 years, and ticked a box that says I can do without alcohol for 31 consecutive days. More and more people are joining this January fast, and this year I had the pleasure of a family event where 5 of the 8 guests were alcohol free. Work colleagues also joined in, as did a neighbour and friend…made life so much easier – but also easy to forget from February 1st onwards.




So – I thought I would try extending my dry habits through to the end of February, and that really wasn’t so easy.  It meant not drinking on New Year’s Day, a family weekend in London, Valentines Day, a wine tasting event and three days in France. I can do will power but I want a life!

However, will power alone runs dry pretty quickly in Scotland, where hospitality starts with a glass and ends with a glass. Still astounds me how many health conferences, meetings, receptions have free flowing wine – we really aren’t good at practicing what we preach!

But my extended sobriety this year meant I have had to develop some good strategies, preferably ones I could apply all year round.  So far, March has been pretty good with my new plan of action – here is how I have cut my alcohol intake by half:

  1. Find some good alcohol free beer.


    It’s worth the effort, and there are now lots to try. I have a (barking) favourite which just happens to be brewed in Scotland.

  2. Mocktails can be fun for those special occasions.


  3. Search and find good wines sold in half bottles.


    For years we have always squealed that half bottles are poor value for money but at the end of day the bills and the alcohol consumption are less!

  4. Share good finds with friends and funnily enough, they share back.


    Suddenly the tables are turned not how much has been drunk but how little, how low the bill, how good the morning after.

When I asked around about dry (or damp) January here are some of the responses:

My dry January did not start until the 14th for a variety of reasons.  I promised myself it would last until the 14th February.  And here I am, a pensioner on a rare treat, a first class train ride from Newcastle back to Dundee, on February 1st, and I am being offered lashings of free wine which, so far, I have managed to resist. 

– Male, aged 65


A few mouthfuls of wine get the taste…no need for more

– Female, aged 59


And from the money conscious young adult, a screenshot…



Finally, in February, our SCPN conference had two great sessions about alcohol. Dr Peter Rice from SHAAP gave an excellent overview of health and policy issues and a reminder of how there may be unintended consequences from the “sober month” approach about. The second presentation was from Lucy Rocca from Soberistas – an amazing presentation from an amazing lady and a great organisation.

No box ticking this year… its never enough!

Forgotten Superfoods: “humble vegetables deserve greater promotion” 

Eat plenty of wholegrains, pulses, vegetables and fruits is a very clear message from the European Code Against Cancer  but one that Scots don’t do well on. Despite the familiar 5 a day message our national monitoring programme shows negligible changes in consumption of vegetable from around 126g per day in 2001 to 129g per day in 2012.

Continue reading “Forgotten Superfoods: “humble vegetables deserve greater promotion” “

Our obesogenic, carcinogenic environment – a legacy for our children

The relationship between obesity and cancer has been well described…and well ignored! Exposure to excess body fat will contribute to increased risk of some of the most common cancers including bowel and breast. Yet, few agencies working in the cancer settings (including the NHS) bring this to the attention of the millions of people who are in contact with healthcare every day. Many think it is a duty of care for people to be given advice on how to “stack the odds” against cancer occurrence (and recurrence) and that we deny people the opportunity to be supported to reduce cancer risk.

Continue reading “Our obesogenic, carcinogenic environment – a legacy for our children”

Losing Weight Feels Good

The association between body fatness and cancer risk varies by cancer site and by body size. What is clear however, is that aiming to achieve a Body Mass Index at the lower end of the healthy weight range is desirable (see WCRF recommendations on body fatness). The European Code Against Cancer guides us to “take action to be a healthy body weight.

Continue reading “Losing Weight Feels Good”

Avoiding excess body fatness makes sense!

The recent IARC report on cancer prevention concludes that the absence of body fatness lowers cancer risk, and that intentional weight loss (based largely on research from animal studies) has a causal cancer preventive effect. Never too late to start weight management strategies…or indeed too early. Continue reading “Avoiding excess body fatness makes sense!”

Life skills for adult physical activity: The basics first…then Wimbledon!

The current recommendations for health, wellbeing and cancer risk reduction highlight the importance of physical activity. Sometimes people mistakenly refer to exercise when they mean physical activity, and therein lies the potential for a whole load of biased views, often stemming from negative experiences of sports and exercise in schooldays.

Continue reading “Life skills for adult physical activity: The basics first…then Wimbledon!”

Auntie Jean and Auntie Norma – Challenges in Cancer Prevention

Everyone knows of an ‘Auntie Jean’. She is the older woman, who liked a good drink, hearty meals, and big puddings and specialises in spectator sport (with feet up in front of the telly). She scores 0 for lifestyle actions for reducing cancer risk. Not a second thought to worrying about health (“the doctor never said I was doing anything wrong“), lived well over the three score years and ten, and dropped dead one day without bothering a soul.

Continue reading “Auntie Jean and Auntie Norma – Challenges in Cancer Prevention”

Bowel Cancer Awareness Month: Reducing Risk is Everyone’s Business

As part of Bowel Cancer Awareness month, we’re running a series of mini-blogs from cancer experts. Here’s the next instalment from Professor Annie S. Anderson.

I would like the public to know that getting bowel cancer is not about bad luck and fate.

Continue reading “Bowel Cancer Awareness Month: Reducing Risk is Everyone’s Business”


Many years ago I recall John Durnin, Professor of Physiology at University of Glasgow, scoffing at the concept of encouraging stair climbing as a useful form of exercise, remarking that one would need to spend a lot of time stepping up to make any difference to fitness or caloric expenditure. For decades I too felt that climbing stairs was an “additional” extra and not a prime message for physical activity until I started to read the emerging evidence on the dangers of sedentary behaviour and identifying opportunities for breaking up sitting time.

Continue reading “#AlwaysTakeTheStairs”

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