Overweight Before Age 40 Increases Cancer Risk by 70%

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Being overweight is an established risk factor for multiple diseases, and is now known to dramatically increase the risk of several cancers. Research from the University of Bergen found that being overweight before the age of 40 increased specific cancer risks, and researchers now suggest that preventing weight gain early in life may help reduce the risk of a cancer diagnosis

A recent cohort study published by the University of Bergen in Norway found that being overweight increased the risk of cancer in patients before the age of 40. In this study, which followed 221,274 individuals for an average of 18 years, adults overweight before 40, defined by the study as a body mass index (BMI) over 25, were 70% more likely to develop endometrial cancer and 58% more likely to develop male renal-cell cancer.[i],[ii]

Additionally, they were 15% more likely to develop obesity-related cancers, including the 13 types of obesity-related cancers defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): [iii]

Meningioma (a tumor usually growing on the brain or spinal cord)

Multiple myelomas (plasma cell cancer)

Adenocarcinoma of the esophagus

Thyroid cancer

Postmenopausal breast cancer

Gallbladder cancer

Stomach cancer

Liver cancer

Pancreatic cancer

Kidney cancer

Ovarian cancer

Uterine cancer

Colorectal cancer

 

While this study is informative, the results aren't surprising. Excess weight is a known risk factor for cancer, and since 2005, cancers associated with obesity have been on the rise, while the diagnosis of some non-obesity related cancers has declined.[iv],[v]

For these reasons, medical professionals recommend healthy weight as an important part of cancer prevention. According to CDC Director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, "A majority of American adults weigh more than recommended … by getting to and keeping a healthy weight, we all can play a role in cancer prevention."[vi]

Yet despite the CDC's recommendations and multiple health initiatives, weight gain and increased BMI continues to be a global concern, with weight levels and related cancers rapidly increasing in developed and developing countries.[vii]

The Epidemiology of Obesity and Subsequent Cancer Diagnosis

Obesity, characterized as BMI over 30, is considered a critical health issue, with an estimated 1.9 billion adults overweight and, among them, over 650 million obese worldwide.[viii],[ix]

Despite public awareness campaigns and a growing understanding of the risks associated with both obesity and excess weight, Americans and Europeans alike continue to gain weight each year, resulting in an increase of obesity-related disease diagnosis and astronomical health care costs.

In the U.S. alone, 85,000 cancer diagnoses each year are related to obesity, and the percentages of cancer attributed to obesity are 39% for endometrial cancer, 25% for kidney cancer and 37% for esophageal cancer.[x],[xi]

The epidemic of excessive weight gain  is no longer confined to the U.S and Europe, however: as Western diet and lifestyle spreads and socioeconomic status increases in developing countries, so does the rate of obesity.[xii],[xiii] A recent study found that obesity-related cancer is growing in Korea, and additional studies have found similar results in Japan and other Asian countries.[xiv],[xv]

While all studies suggest that controlling the obesity epidemic and improving dietary patterns in developing countries may help curb the cancer rate before it reaches levels resembling those in Western countries, few offer practical advice for curbing excessive weight gain.[xvi]

Reducing Cancer and Disease Risk by Mitigating Weight Gain

As diets have shifted toward a greater intake of processed foods and activity levels have declined, the obesity epidemic has risen drastically.[xvii]

According to the featured study, the timing and duration of weight gain may have a significant impact on cancer risk, indicating that the health and wellness of young adults is of special concern in reducing cancer risk.[xviii] While some researchers point to the public health sector as a possible solution for effectively reducing the population's weight, one study pointed out:

" … [W]hen it comes to guidance related to obesity, there are few examples at the provincial/state or national levels in which this sector has been mobilized and effectively used to prevent obesity. Rarely is there evidence that nurses, physicians, and other medical professionals raise and discuss intelligently the issues of proper diet and physical activity patterns."[xix]

Yet despite these concerns, researchers seem cautiously optimistic about reducing adult weight, citing the success of public health initiatives in lowering the use of tobacco products over recent decades.[xx] Currently, the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research (WCRF) lists the following guidelines for reducing cancer risk associated with being overweight:[xxi],[xxii]

  • Maintaining a healthy weight throughout life (suggested BMI between 21 and 23 kg/m2, depending on population)[xxiii]
  • Adopting a physically active lifestyle
  • Limiting tobacco and alcohol use
  • Following a primarily plant-based diet rich in fruits and vegetables, with no processed foods

Additional measures to mitigate weight include educational nutritional programs, food journaling, community-based weight management programs, physical activity programs in schools and neighborhoods, and commercial weight-loss programs.[xxiv]

Pharmacologic weight loss strategies also exist, although these induce adverse gastrointestinal side effects such as nausea, vomiting and constipation and are considered far less safe and effective than long-term lifestyle modifications such as dietary changes.[xxv],[xxvi],[xxvii]

Further, hundreds of natural compounds have anti-obesity potential. To view a comprehensive list of natural anti-obesity agents, or learn more about the risks associated with weight gain, please view the GreenMedInfo.com research database on obesity


References

[i] Int J Epidemiol. 2019 Dec 1;48(6):1872-1885. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyz188.

[ii] The University of Bergen. "Overweight before age 40 increases the cancer risk." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 October 2019. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/10/191011112236.htm

[iii] Cancers Associated with Overweight and Obesity Make up 40 percent of Cancers Diagnosed in the United States. (2017, October 13). Retrieved March 3, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2017/p1003-vs-cancer-obesity.html

[iv] MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2017 Oct 3;66(39):1052-1058. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6639e1.

[v]  Cancers Associated with Overweight and Obesity Make up 40 percent of Cancers Diagnosed in the United States. (2017, October 13). Retrieved March 3, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2017/p1003-vs-cancer-obesity.html

[vi] Cancers Associated with Overweight and Obesity Make up 40 percent of Cancers Diagnosed in the United States. (2017, October 13). Retrieved March 3, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2017/p1003-vs-cancer-obesity.html

[vii] Nutr Rev. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2013 Jan 1.

[viii] World Health Organization April 1, 2020 https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight

[ix] The University of Bergen. "Overweight before age 40 increases the cancer risk." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 October 2019. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/10/191011112236.htm

[x] Eur J Cancer Prev. 2002 Aug;11 Suppl 2:S94-100.

[xi] Curr Oncol Rep. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2013 Sep 29.

[xii] ScientificWorldJournal. 2014; 2014: 964236.

[xiii] J Obes. 2010; 2010: 868573.

[xiv] Int J Cancer. 2019 Mar 1; 144(5): 967–980.

[xv] J Clin Oncol. 2005 Jul 20;23(21):4742-54.

[xvi] Nutr Rev. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2013 Jan 1.

[xvii] Nutr Rev. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2013 Jan 1.

[xviii] Int J Epidemiol. 2019 Dec 1;48(6):1872-1885. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyz188.

[xix] Nutr Rev. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2013 Jan 1.

[xx]  Pharmacoeconomics. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2016 Jul 1.

[xxi] Curr Breast Cancer Rep. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2019 Jan 16.

[xxii] Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: a Global Perspective. (2007). Retrieved March 3, 2020, from https://www.wcrf.org/dietandcancer

[xxiii] J Obes. 2013; 2013: 291546.

[xxiv] Curr Obstet Gynecol Rep. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2016 Dec 1.

[xxv] Lancet. 2009 Nov 7;374(9701):1606-16. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(09)61375-1. Epub 2009 Oct 23.

[xxvi] Diabetes Care. 2013 Dec;36(12):4022-9. doi: 10.2337/dc13-0234. Epub 2013 Oct 21.

[xxvii] Int J Obes (Lond). 2012 Jun;36(6):843-54. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2011.158. Epub 2011 Aug 16.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of GreenMedInfo or its staff.
Sayer Ji
Founder of GreenMedInfo.com

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