A new international report released today further highlights the important role that overweight and obesity play in the development of cancer. Produced by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and released in the New England Journal of Medicine, the report, Body Fatness and Cancer — Viewpoint of the IARC Working Group, finds that approximately 4.5 million deaths worldwide are caused each year by cancers related to overweight and obesity.
For thirteen cancers, there was “sufficient” evidence to conclude that excess weight significantly increased risk of developing the disease. This was eight more cancers than was included in the similar IARC report published in 2002. Esophageal (adenocarcinoma) and uterine (corpus uteri) cancers had the highest risks. Comparing the highest body mass index (BMI) category with the normal category, there was a nearly 5 times increased risk for developing esophageal cancer, and just over 7 times increased risk for uterine cancer. Risk increases for other cancers ranged between a 10 percent increase in risk to a 80 percent increase in risk, and included cancers ranging from ovarian and breast cancer to pancreatic cancer and multiple myeloma.
Cancer News in Context‘s Graham Colditz chaired the IARC working group that developed the statement. In a Washington University School of Medicine media release about the findings of the working group, he stated:
“Significant numbers of the U.S. and the world’s population are overweight. This is another wake-up call. It’s time to take our health and our diets seriously.”
Looking at the data as a whole, the report concludes that maintaining a healthy weight can lower cancer risk, and though solid evidence in humans is still developing – that losing excess weight likely can as well.
Battling weight is a lifelong struggle for most people, and the US and global obesity epidemic has complex and multiple origins. To make real progress against the epidemic, we need to create a society that enables and fosters healthy activity and food choices. Individual choice is just one part of the larger approach. The Obesity Prevention Source, developed by our colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health, provides a guidebook for tackling these broader issues, targeting policy makers, health professionals, and motivated citizens.
For those looking for help getting started with personal healthy choices for weight control, the federal site, Nutrition.gov, is a good place to begin – as is our own post: Some Simple Tips for Keeping Weight in Check.