A recent study
recently found that being overweight is now linked to 8 more cancers, including stomach and pancreatic cancer. The study not only reiterates the rhetoric of obesity, but also offers the hope that we can take charge of our cancer risks by maintaining a healthy weight.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 39 percent of adults in the world were overweight in 2014 alone. That’s over 600 million adults. This number is not only expected to rise, but also include more children and adolescents.
Obesity is known to increase a person’s risk for cardiovascular problems, diabetes, and even cancer. But the new study suggest the cancer link may be an underestimate. By combing through over 1,000 studies by the WHO’s International Agency for Cancer on Research (IARC), researchers at the University of Washington say weight and cancer risks are more insidious than previously thought. In particular, they cited 8 more cancers that are more likely to occur with increased weight gain. As published in the New England Journal of Medicine, these include: cancers of the gastric cardia, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, ovary, and thyroid, as well as multiple myeloma and meningioma.
"The burden of cancer due to being overweight or obese is more extensive than what has been assumed," said Graham Colditz, professor at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, who chaired the IARC Working Group. "Many of the newly identified cancers linked to excess weight haven't been on people's radar screens as having a weight component."
Excess weight gain and obesity can be crudely measured by assessing a person’s body mass index (BMI), which takes into account weight and height. Overweight is defined as BMI of greater than 25.0 to 29.9, whereas obesity is defined as having a BMI of greater than 30.0. In nearly all of the cancer incidences, higher BMI was correlated with higher cancer risks.
While the study underscores the health consequences of weight gain, Colditz accepts that the population has a real struggle with weight gain and weight loss. "Losing weight is hard for many people," he acknowledged. "Rather than getting discouraged and giving up, those struggling to take off weight could instead focus on avoiding more weight gain," he adds.
Furthermore, Colditz advocates healthy lifestyle changes to empower individuals to take control of their health risks. "Lifestyle factors such as eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising, in addition to not smoking, can have a significant impact on reducing cancer risk. Public health efforts to combat cancer should focus on these things that people have some control over,” said Colditz.
"Significant numbers of the U.S. and the world's population are overweight," notes Dr. Colditz. "This is another wake-up call. It's time to take our health and our diets seriously."
Additional source: Washington University School of Medicine press release