Being overweight brings increased risk of 11 types of cancer

Researchers have now found that being overweight could increase the risk of a host of cancers following a wide review of more than 200 studies, reported The Guardian on 28 February*.

According to previous figures from two leading charities, almost three quarters of people are expected to be overweight by 2035, with 700,000 new cases of obesity-related cancer expected over the next 20 years.

Implications of the new international study

This new study, by a team from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, reveals that there is currently strong evidence for a link between excess body fat and an increased risk of 11 cancers: colon, rectum, endometrium, breast, ovary, kidney, pancreas, gastric cardia, biliary tract system and certain cancers of the oesophagus and bone marrow.

“I think now the public and physicians really need to pay attention to obesity with respect to cancer,” said Marc Gunter, a co-author of the research from the International Agency for Research on Cancer. “Telling people to avoid being overweight not only reduces their risk of, say, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, it also reduces their risk of many different cancers.”

While the new study does not shed light on how excess body weight is linked to an increased risk of various cancers, a number of explanations have previously been proposed. “We know that if you are overweight it causes lots of disruption of hormonal and metabolic pathways,” said Gunter, noting that excess fat has been linked to higher oestrogen levels, higher insulin levels and increased inflammation – all of which can affect cell division.

What’s more, scientists warn that the increased risk is not confined to those who are obese.  Anyone who carries excess fat is at some degree of risk, they say.

Additional Comments

The Guardian article reported comments on the Study from:

Dr Rachel Orritt, Cancer Research UK’s Health Information Officer:   “Being overweight is second only to smoking as the biggest preventable cause of cancer. “Whether it’s taking the stairs or switching to sugar-free versions of your favourite drinks, small changes can make a real difference, helping you keep a healthy weight and reducing your risk of cancer”.

Dr Alison Tedstone, Chief Nutritionist at Public Health England:  “Less than half the population realise that being obese increases the risk of cancer and, with almost two-thirds of adults carrying excess weight, this is worrying”.

Paul Aveyard, Professor of Behavioural Medicine at the University of Oxford: “It is one more reason for people to be concerned about the excess body weight that they carry.”

What role can employers play?

Promoting workplace health

As an employer, you may not feel as though the health of your staff is your concern or even something you can have any influence over.

However, promoting health in the workplace should be a key focus for maintaining productivity. Ensuring that your employees have the information and support they need to make healthy diet and lifestyle choices – including those aimed at preventing and combating  obesity – can make a huge difference to your business.

Medigold Health gives occupational health advice that is tailored to your business. Contact us today if you need advice about encouraging your employees to make healthy lifestyle choices.


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