When it comes to chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, most people recognize that there is a definite link between lifestyle factors and risk of developing these diseases. A recent report by the World Cancer Research Fund outlines that cancer is no exception to this link. The report officially links 12 types of cancer, including breast and colorectal, to being overweight or obese.
Statistics laid out in the report are staggering. Roughly 2 billion adults worldwide, in addition to more than 338 million children and teenagers, were considered overweight or obese in 2016. That is a trend that is clearly rising, as childhood obesity rates in the United States have nearly tripled since 1980. A leading cause of this worldwide uptick in obesity, and potentially the relationship between obesity and cancer, is overconsumption of processed sugar. Consuming too much sugar leads to insulin resistance and chronic inflammation, both of which are known risk factors for developing cancer.
The other ten types of obesity-related cancers, in addition to breast and colorectal, include endometrial; gallbladder; kidney; liver; mouth, pharynx, and larynx; esophageal; ovarian; pancreatic; prostate; and stomach. These 12 cancers linked to obesity are up from the seven identified by the World Cancer Research Center ten years ago. The overall rates of these cancers are also on the rise, with an expected increase of 58% by 2035. While smoking is still the most common cause of preventable cancer, the World Cancer Research Fund states that obesity will overtake it within a couple decades in certain countries.
The report also outlines preventative strategies for people to avoid obesity-related cancer, and for overall health in general. These recommendations include maintaining a healthy body weight and staying physically active. They also recommend for new mothers to consider breastfeeding because it protects the mother against breast cancer and promotes a healthy development for the infant. As far as dietary recommendations, the report suggests vegetables, fruits, beans, and unprocessed whole grains should make up the majority of our diets. Foods to avoid include fast foods and other processed foods, sugary drinks, and excess alcohol. Another interesting recommendation by the report was to avoid reliance on supplements, rather aim to meet nutritional needs from diet alone. While I agree with this philosophy, it is difficult to do, and the benefits of using high-quality supplements greatly outweigh the risks.
While cancer remains one of the most difficult diagnoses in health care, this report sheds light that there are preventative measures. Living a healthy lifestyle, which includes maintaining a proper body weight, continues to be our best defense against chronic disease.
Yours in Health, Dr. Alex
Project Wellness Company, Madison WI