Obesity and Lack of Exercise Linked to Cancer Risk

Obesity and being overweight have long been linked to a variety of diseases, but they, along with lack of exercise, have now also been connected to cancer. In fact, up to one-third of breast, colon and kidney tumors can be attributed to being overweight and a lack of sufficient physical activity, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer.

The Agency, which met February 13 to 20 in Lyon, France, issued several conclusions regarding cancer risk, such as which limiting weight gain reduces the risk of cancers of the esophagus, colon, esophagus and endometrium, and breast cancer. Regular physical activity was also determined to reduce the risk of breast and colon cancer, and possibly endometrial and prostate cancer. The Agency will release a full review and evaluation in 2001 in Volume 6 of the IARC Handbooks of Cancer Prevention.

The WHO considers a BMI or body mass index, of less than 18.5 to be underweight, a body mass index greater than 25 to be overweight and a body mass index greater than 30 to indicate obesity. The Agency states that maintaining a BMI between 18.5 and 25 clearly reduces the risk of several cancers. For people who are already overweight or obese, there is no direct evidence that losing weight will result in reduced cancer risk, but hormonal changes that occur with weight loss seem likely to reduce the risk of some cancers, according to the Agency. Epidemiological evidence also suggests that even losing weight late in life could positively affect risk of breast and endometrial cancer.

The Agency recommends counseling people about healthy body-weight ranges and the need for an active lifestyle, and it encourages continuous physical activity most days of the week. One hour a day of moderate exercise may be required to maintain a healthy body weight, while more vigorous activity several times a week may give additional cancer-prevention benefits.

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