Cancer Council urges parents to ‘ditch the ham sandwich’ in school lunchboxes

It’s the seemingly innocuous lunchbox staple that’s sparked a ham-fisted debate.

The Cancer Council has urged people to “ditch the ham sandwich” due to links between processed and cured meats and cancer.

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The organisation has instead urged parents to look at alternative sandwich fillings to give to their children – reportedly in flyers targeting schoolkids.

Health organisations calling for people to limit their processed meat intake – or any process food for that matter – is nothing new.

The Cancer Council said back in 2019 that it “recommends that we limit or avoid processed meats because of their link with increasing the risk of bowel and stomach cancer”, while the World Health Organisation four years prior categorised processed meat as a group one carcinogen.

“There is convincing evidence that the agent causes cancer. The evaluation is usually based on epidemiological studies showing the development of cancer in exposed humans,” WHO said at the time.

The Cancer Council has urged people to ‘ditch the ham sandwich’. File image. Credit: Getty Images

But does ham have a place in diets? Sydney-based general practitioner Ginni Mansberg says no.

“The Cancer Council’s just on board with the rest of the world, saying you should have it never or as little as you can,” she told Sunrise.

“A lot of us love a ham sandwich, but it’s just not good for you.

“I would say just don’t have it.”

‘Ditch the ham sandwich’

Jennifer Cohen, an expert in paediatric nutrition, believes the issue is slightly more complex.

While she agrees that there’s “strong” research showing the links between processed meat and cancer, she has taken issue with the Cancer Council’s messaging.

She’s especially concerned about the impact of the message on fussy children who eat little else than processed meat meals such as ham sandwiches.

“It’s about having a wide variety of food, limiting the processed foods,” she told

“That’s part of what we would see as a healthy eating pattern.

Parents are being urged to find alternatives to the ham sandwich for lunch boxes.
Parents are being urged to find alternatives to the ham sandwich for lunch boxes. Credit: Peter Cade/Getty Images

“The message has always been limit or reduce proceed foods. But it’s never been stop it or don’t have it.

“The message ‘ditch the ham sandwich’, it feels like you should never have it.”

She said taking a known favourite meal away from a fussy child is “always going to make fussy eating worse”.

“My message has always been to make sure meal times are calm and relaxed and there’s always food you know a child’s going to eat,” said Cohen.

“So then it’s always about letting your child eat food you’ll know they’ll eat in combination with trialling new foods or different food.

“If ham is the one thing a parent knows a child is going to eat, then there’s no problem in doing that. It’s also about providing other foods with that as well.”

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