Dietary Behaviors, Physical Activity, and Energy Balance


Evidence continues to show that lifestyle behaviors can influence the chance of developing disease, such as cancer, even after accounting for other factors such as stress, environment, or smoking. The Health Behaviors Research Branch supports individual and community-based intervention research that explores the effect of lifestyle behaviors such as diet, physical activity, obesity/overweight, energy balance, and sun exposure on cancer prevention and control research across the lifespan. Effective strategies to address behavior change of population groups at greater risk for developing select cancers is encouraged.

Diet-related Projects

National Fruit & Vegetable Program - Fruits & Veggies—More Matters

The National Fruit & Vegetable Program aims to increase the number of fruits and vegetables Americans eat. A daily diet rich in fresh produce promotes good health and may help reduce the risk of stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and some cancers.

In March 2007, the Five A Day program became the National Fruit and Vegetable Program. The group launched a new public health initiative, Fruits & Veggies—More Matters, in order to reflect the new dietary guidelines, which recommend more than five servings of fruits and vegetables for some Americans. The National Program is a public-private partnership. It is a confederation of government, not-for-profit groups and industry working collaboratively and synergistically to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables for improved public health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH) are leading this initiative and are in partnership with other health organizations. The goal is to achieve increased daily consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Food Attitudes and Behavior (FAB) Survey Project

Staff at NCI developed The Food Attitudes and Behaviors (FAB) Survey so that they could better understand the factors involved with fruit and vegetable intake among U.S. adults. The FAB Survey contains 65 questions in eight sections and measures attitudes and opinions, general health, shopping, fruit and vegetable consumption, eating behaviors, physical activity, sedentary behaviors, food preferences, and demographic data. Conventional constructs include self-efficacy, barriers, social support, and knowledge of recommendations related to fruit and vegetable intake. Novel constructs include shopping patterns, taste preferences, views on vegetarianism, intrinsic/extrinsic motivation, and environmental influences. The FAB Survey was administered using a Consumer Opinion Panel in Fall 2007 and the final sample consisted of 3,397 adults, with an oversampling of African-Americans. The final response rate was 57 percent. The FAB Survey, data, and accompanying materials will be made available shortly. Please check back on the website for more information.


Diet and Communication

Although diet and communication is a well-defined scientific area of research, few studies have examined how communications strategies influence dietary behaviors at multiple levels. The issue of health-related communication strategies and diet is an ongoing topic of discussion and debate across local, state, and federal government agencies, such as the United States Surgeon General's Office, as well as across the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture. Efforts in this area are needed to overcome the aforementioned dietary misinformation and confusion of the American public. This misinformation and the resulting confusion may have a deleterious impact on the public's dietary behavior, contributing to the increase in prevalence of obesity and many chronic diseases, including various forms of cancer and cardiovascular diseases. In efforts to promote healthy lifestyles, it is important to explore and optimize the methodologies related to dietary messages and their content at multiple levels and their impact on the public's dietary behaviors. Research in this area can potentially generate solutions to improve dietary behavior. In 2005, the National Cancer Institute sponsored and then put forward a special issue on the subject in 2007. In 2008, the NCI, along with eight other partnering federal organizations, institutes, and offices issued two Program Announcements to address this research area.

Reports & Publications

Journal Supplement: The Examination of Two Short Dietary Assessment Methods, within the Context of Multiple Behavioral Change Interventions in Adult Populations. The Journal of Nutrition (January 2008, Volume 138, Issue 1). Disclaimer


Genetics and Weight Loss



Tanya Agurs-Collins

Physical Activity

Physical activity has been linked to decreased risks of various cancers and improved physical and emotional functioning among cancer survivors, whereas sedentary behavior, or a lack of physical activity and poor fitness, has been associated with increased risk and poorer prognosis for various cancers. Sedentary behavior has increasingly been recognized as an independent risk factor and is distinguishable from lack of physical activity in terms of conceptualization, measurement, and intervention approach. Recent evidence also indicates the independent associations of sedentary behavior with cancer-relevant outcomes and the importance of characterizing and intervening upon the large segments of time people spend remaining sedentary.

In order to better understand and improve/reduce physical activity/sedentary behavior in the U.S. population, the Health Behaviors Research Branch focuses on research related to: physical activity interventions and programs, behavioral assessment of physical activity and/or sedentary activity, physiological assessment of physical activity (e.g., physiological fitness), mechanisms of physical activity/sedentary behavior change, multiple health behaviors associated with exercise, use of technology (e.g., cell phones and other mobile devices) to intervene on physical activity/sedentary behaviors, environmental aspects of physical activity, policy and physical activity, genetic aspects of physical activity and physical fitness, and addressing the interplay between physical fitness, obesity, and cancer relevant outcomes. Projects addressing mechanisms of physical activity behavior change and innovative use of theory and state of the art methodology; as well as novel approaches for sedentary behavior intervention, mechanisms of sedentary behavior change, and innovative use and development of behavioral theory and methodology are especially sought.


Frank M. Perna, Ed.D., Ph.D.

Energy Balance

The term, "energy balance" as applied to human health, typically refers to the integrated effects of diet, physical activity, and genetics on growth and body weight over an individual’s lifetime. Increasingly, evidence supports the importance of understanding the effects of energy balance on cancer prevention, development, and progression and on cancer survivors’ quality of life. Weight, body composition, physical activity, and diet affect numerous physiological systems and can influence the cancer process at many points. The Health Behaviors Research Branch supports research that explores the effect of energy balance (obesity and overweight) on cancer prevention and relevant approaches with broad population impact.


National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research – (NCCOR)

The National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) brings together four of the nation’s leading research funders – the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) – to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and application of childhood obesity research and to produce positive changes more rapidly through enhanced coordination and collaboration.

Transdisciplinary Research on Energetics and Cancer (TREC)

Transdisciplinary Research on Energetics and Cancer (TREC) initiative fosters collaboration among transdisciplinary teams of scientists with the goal of accelerating progress toward reducing cancer incidence, morbidity, and mortality associated with obesity, low levels of physical activity, and poor diet. It also will provide training opportunities for new and established scientists to carry out integrative research on energetics and energy balance. The TREC initiative complements NCI ’s other energy balance research endeavors and efforts of the NIH Obesity Task Force.

Transdisciplinary Research on Energetics and Cancer (TREC)


Last Updated
September 24, 2020