A new analysis, published in the Lancet Public Health, raises the alarm that the rates of obesity-related cancers are rising in younger and younger adults. In the new study, six of twelve types of obesity-related cancers have significantly increased between 1995-2014 and the risk of these cancers is increasing in each successive younger age group. These cancers include colorectal, pancreatic, gallbladder, kidney cancer and multiple myeloma (a type of blood cancer). These cancer types are particularly concerning because they are very serious and account for over 150,000 deaths in the U.S. every year.
“These numbers are worrying but not surprising; the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) recently sounded the alarm that having overweight and obesity cause at least 12 types of cancer. However, the younger and younger age bracket in which we see rates increasing is even more troubling and demands a response. We cannot just watch these rates go up and ignore the factors that we know are contributing to these increases,” says Dr. Nigel Brockton, Vice President of Research at AICR.
Disturbingly, over 70% of Americans have overweight or obesity according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And AICR maintains that cancer risk increases across each higher category of Body Mass Index (BMI) as an indicator of body fatness (Healthy = 18.5-24.9, Overweight = 25-29.9, and Obesity = 30 and above).
A mere five BMI points (kg/m2) separate the three basic (healthy, overweight, obese) BMI categories. It is important to emphasize that cancer risk is not limited to the extreme category of obesity only, the risk increases for those with overweight too. For example, compared to those having healthy BMI range overweight category face an increased liver cancer risk of 30% and those having obesity of 60%.
The recent AICR Energy Balance and Body Fatness Report presented strong evidence for factors that can reduce risk of having weight gain, overweight and obesity, including walking, aerobic physical activity, food containing fiber and a “Mediterranean-type” diets rich in fruits and vegetables that reduce the risk of weight gain, overweight and obesity. Conversely, sugar-sweetened drinks, fast foods and a “Western type” diet rich in meats and energy-dense proteins are strongly linked to increased weight gain, overweight and obesity.
The Report also points to the evidence that greater screen time is a cause of weight gain, overweight and obesity in children. This is particularly relevant in light of the Lancet study that discussed the onset of cancer at an early age, since children with overweight and obesity are likely to turn into young adults in a similar status. There is enormous opportunity to prevent future cancer cases, if changes can be made to stop and reverse the current trend of increasing overweight and obesity. In addition to helping individuals learn about healthy lifestyle choices, community and national policies play a crucial role in creating living spaces more conducive to physical activity and healthier food choices.
AICR is urging Congress and federal agencies to improve funding for cancer prevention research, ensure that federal nutrition and physical activity guidelines reflect the latest research regarding cancer risk, improve nutrition labeling and improve access to lifestyle interventions.