Obesity and Cancer Risk

The American Cancer Society has released the latest edition of it’s Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention. The publish it every five years, and the emphasis now is on--you guessed it--obesity. Yes, being overweight or obese is a significant cancer risk. This contributes to as much as 20 percent of all cancer related mortality. The list of the cancers to which it’s clearly linked is long: breast, colon, uterine, esophagus, and kidney. It is highly suggestive it is linked to these as well: pancreatic, gallbladder, thyroid, ovarian, cervical, prostate cancer, Hodgkin’s disease, and multiple myeloma. Overall, one third of the more than 500.000 cancer deaths in the U.S. each year can be attributed to diet and excess weight.

There are several mechanisms by which being overweight can increase cancer risk, including effects on immune function, levels of hormones, including estrogen, insulin, and it affects factors that regulate cell growth, and it can have a physical effect….for example, obesity causes acid reflux disease, which increased the risk of esophageal cancer.

According to the latest American Cancer Society guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention, besides tobacco use, weight control, dietary choices and levels of physical activity are the most important modifiable risk factors of cancer. Lenard Freeman, Community Executive with the American Cancer Society says, “Obesity is a significant health risk in this country, it’s rapidly approaching the point of tobacco use as a major public health threat.”

The recommendations include 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activty, on five or more days of the week. But 45 to 60 minutes of intentional, planned physical activity are recommended. “We’re not saying they need to go out and run a marathon but ah consider biking, walking, jogging, anything to increase the heart rate over your daily normal activity, ah pays huge dividends, and people just aren’t aware of that,” states Mr. Freeman.

Children and adolescents should engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a day at least five days a week. “We’re expecting people to do anything that would significantly increase their breathing rate and heart rate, so walking your dog is part of your daily activity, but after walking your dog you might want to go out for a 45 minute ah fast pace walk, you might want to go to the gym and do some time on a treadmill or an exercise bike,” says Freeman.

And then there’s food; the recommendations emphasize five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day, and choosing whole grains rather than refined grains. “We also recommend that they limit their consumption of red meat because that’s been linked to ah certain cancers like colon cancer, ah processed meats are another risk for colon cancer. So really just eating healthier foods, so white meats, fruits and vegetables and ah exercise are a great way for Americans to improve their over all health,” advises Freeman.

 So if it sounds to you like a lot of the things you need to do prevent cancer are basically a lot of the same things you need to do to prevent heart disease, you’d be right. It’s the simple stuff that can pay huge dividents in preventing the top three causes of death: heart disease, cancer and stroke. Sadly, with two/thirds of americans either overweight or obese, it’s obvious we’re not doing the simple things.

For more information, visit "American Cancer Society."


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