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Cancers Could Increase Due to Excess Body Weight

Cancers Could Increase Due to Excess Body Weight

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  • Excess body weight currently accounts for approximately four percent of all cancers worldwide
  • Various factors are responsible for the rise in body weight, including public policies, economic reforms, and marketing strategies
  • Reducing excess body weight could significantly decrease the incidence of cancer

Excess body weight is increasingly becoming a huge problem worldwide, according to a new study. This has been fuelled by a wide variety of factors, including public policies, economic reforms and marketing strategies. These promote the consumption of energy-rich but nutrient-deficient food, which lead to behavioral changes that encourage high food consumption without adequate physical activity. Moreover, the built environment is generally not conducive to physical activity.

The study has been published online in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, which is a journal of the American Cancer Society. The paper has been authored by researchers from the American Cancer Society, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, USA and Imperial College, London, UK. The lead author of the paper is Dr. Hyuna Sung, PhD of the American Cancer Society.


The study presents regional and global trends in the prevalence of excess body weight, the key factors driving the epidemic, its link with cancer, and suggests policies that could bring about a change. It indicates that excessive body weight accounted for approximately 3.9 percent of cancers globally in 2012. If this trend continues, it has been predicted that the numbers could significantly increase in the coming decades.

What is the Prevalence of Excess Body Weight?

The prevalence of excess body weight has been on the rise worldwide since the 1970s. In 2016, the global prevalence of excess body weight was 40 percent in adults and 18 percent in children within the age-group of 5-19 years. These figures translate to approximately 2 billion adults and 340 million children with excess body weight globally. Although the prevalence of excess body weight has increased throughout the world, it has been particularly high in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), possibly due to exposure to the 'Western Lifestyle', which encourages the consumption of high-energy and low-nutrient foods, accompanied by reduced physical activity.

What is the Impact of Excess Body Weight on Cancer?

In 2015, excess body weight accounted for approximately 4 million deaths worldwide. The cost involved in the treatment and management of excess body weight globally has been estimated to be a staggering USD 2 trillion!

Approximately 544,300 cancer cases were caused by excess body weight in 2012. This figure accounts for 3.9 percent of all cancer cases worldwide. The proportion of cancer cases varies from place to place. For example, it is less than one percent in LMICs, while in some high-income Western countries, in the Middle East and in the countries of Northern Africa, it varies between 7-8 percent.

It has been found that 13 cancers have been linked to excess body weight and obesity. These include cancers of the: (i) breast (postmenopausal), (ii) stomach (cardia), (iii) liver, (iv) kidney, (v) pancreas, (vi) ovary, (vii) uterus (corpus uteri), (viii) esophagus (adenocarcinoma), (ix) colon and rectum (colorectal), (x) gallbladder, (xi) thyroid, (xii) meningioma (cancer of the meninges that cover the brain), (xiii) multiple myeloma (a type of blood cancer). Moreover, recent studies have indicated that excess body weight could also cause cancers of the prostate, larynx, mouth, and pharynx.

What are the Economic Drivers of Excess Body Weight?

The most important economic driver of excess body weight is an increase in national wealth. There is a tendency that a wealthier and more robust economy is conducive to increases in body weight and obesity. Statistics show that every USD 10,000 increase in national income, translates into 0.4 units rise in body mass index (BMI) in the adult population. Having said this, it is not always true that increased affluence means a rise in body weight.

For example, in some high-income countries of the Asia-Pacific region, such as Japan and South Korea, excess body weight and obesity are quite low (4-7%). This could stem from the fact that the dietary habits in these countries have remained predominantly traditional which are low in calories and high in nutrients. Moreover, in these countries walking is an integral part of daily life.

On the other hand, the prevalence of excess body weight is much higher in some of the low-income Pacific Island countries (40-65%), as well as in Egypt, where the prevalence is 43 percent in case of women and 24 percent in case of men.

What Role Can the World Health Organization (WHO) Play?

One of the nine 2025 targets chalked-out by WHO is to halt the rise in obesity. It also aims to address the issue of the increasing global burden of non-communicable diseases such as cancer. Given the current progress in global healthcare, achieving these goals seems to be far-fetched and rather ambitious. However, the WHO is optimistic that with the collective and coordinated efforts among governments, industries and civil society, it would be possible to implement public policies that address pressing issues such as stopping the production, distribution and sale of unhealthy food products. Coupled to this, there should also be changes in the human-built environment so as to promote physical activity among the population.

What Strategies Could Prevent Excess Body Weight?

  • Legislation to ban trans-fats in foods
  • Taxation on sugary beverages
  • Subsidizing fruits and vegetables
  • Reducing portion and package size of food items
  • Improved urban planning/design which should provide: (i) optimal residential density, (ii) interlinked footpaths, (iii) accessibility to a variety of destinations, (iv) access to public transport, (v) access to quality open public places, (vi) infrastructure for walking and cycling

Expert Opinion

"There is emerging consensus on opportunities for obesity control through the multisectoral coordinated implementation of core policy actions to promote an environment conducive to a healthy diet and active living," the authors write. "The rapid increase in both the prevalence of excess body weight and the associated cancer burden highlights the need for a rejuvenated focus on identifying, implementing, and evaluating interventions to prevent and control excess body weight."

Reference :
  1. Global patterns in excess body weight and the associated cancer burden -  (http://dx.doi.org/10.3322/caac.21499)

Source: Medindia

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