25 August 2019
The study finds that being overweight or obese raises cancer risk much more for women than for men. Photo: AFP
The study finds that being overweight or obese raises cancer risk much more for women than for men. Photo: AFP

Obesity leads to half a million cancer cases a year: WHO

Here’s one compelling reason for people to put on their running shoes and start getting rid of their flabs: obesity or being overweight is to blame for half a million cases of cancer a year, says an agency under the World Health Organization.

About 3.6 percent or 481,000 cancer cases diagnosed in 2012 could be traced to the high body mass index (BMI) of the patients, according to a study by the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer, which was published in the Lancet Oncology journal on Wednesday.

A person’s BMI is calculated by having their weight in kilograms divided by the square of their height in meters. A person with a BMI of 25 is considered overweight, while obesity starts from 30 on the index.

About 23 percent of the new cases were in North America, where the proportion of cancers attributable to high BMI was highest, while 14 percent were diagnosed in East Asia, where the risk due to extra weight was low but the population is so large that a tiny percentage means tens of thousands of patients, Los Angeles Times reported, citing the study.

Wealthier nations have a bigger share of cancer cases attributed to obesity. The study shows that the proportion of cancers linked to excess weight in the richest countries (5.3 percent) was much higher than the proportion for the poorest nations (1 percent).

The researchers focused on nine types of cancer that have been linked with excess weight in previous studies. These include cancers of the esophagus, colon, rectum, kidney, pancreas, gall bladder, uterus and ovaries, as well as postmenopausal breast cancer.

The study also found that being overweight or obese raised cancer risk much more for women than for men. Overall, 5.4 percent of the new cases in women could be traced to high BMIs, compared with 1.9 percent of new cancers in men.

Postmenopausal breast cancers and uterine cancers accounted for about two-thirds of all new cancers linked to high BMI in women, while cancers of the colon and kidneys made up two-thirds of such cases in men.

The research team said if the global population had not gotten fatter since 1982, roughly 118,000 cancers could have been avoided by 2012. That’s roughly 25 percent of the cases diagnosed that year.

So if you want to live longer, eat the right kinds and amounts of food, avoid unhealthy habits such as drinking and smoking, and best of all, exercise.

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