“Being overweight is not good for you, you can get diabetes or have heart disease”. This is something we all hear frequently and know for a fact. What we don’t hear and many of us don’t know is that being overweight and obese also causes cancer! Yes, that disease that we all fear CANCER. In fact, it can cause up to thirteen different types of cancer. This includes cancers with some of the worst outcomes like oesophageal and pancreatic and those linked to reproductive organs like womb and ovarian. This is in addition to the risk from diabetes and heart disease that we are all familiar with. With obesity levels rising globally it is currently the second biggest cause of preventable cancers after tobacco use and we must do more to reduce rates.
The way that obesity and extra weight can cause cancer can be considered complex but as the diagram shows very simply, the extra fat cells are active and lead to an excess production of hormones and growth factors. These in turn stimulate key cells to divide increasing the risk of mutation and cancer cells being produced. It is the mutation through cell division that leads to a cancer cell in the body that rapidly divides to form a tumor.
There are many factors that contribute to obesity but we know that the best way to reduce your weight to a healthy body mass index (Height cm/Weight kg; 18.5-24.9) is to eat healthily and reduce the amount of foods that are high in fats sugars and salt (HFSS).
Currently the evidence shows the link between obesity and cancer in adults BUT we do know that if a child is overweight and obese, they are 5 times more than likely to become an overweight adult with an increased cancer risk, in addition to the risk of diabetes and heart disease. All have high associated health costs. Knowing this it is vital that we do more to support children to eat healthy.
There are many things around us that constantly tempt and encourage us all but especially children, to see, want and buy these HFSS foods – from marketing to price promotions. Research from Cancer Research UK has shown that for every extra broadcast advert a child watches a week they are likely to consume an extra 350 calories/week!!
Obesity rates are rising globally and if we don’t do anything it will overtake smoking as the leading cause of cancer. It has a large health risk associated with it financially, physically and mentally and we must do more to prevent it. Raising our awareness of the health risk posed from obesity is a start and combined with doing more to reduce the increasingly “obesogenic” (obesity friendly) environment we are living in, we can start to hopefully turn this epidemic around.
Brown KF, Rumgay H, Dunlop C, et al. Thefraction of cancer attributable to modifiable risk factors in England, Wales,Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the United Kingdom in 2015. British Journal ofCancer 2018; 118(8): 1130-41.
“Under Pressure: New evidence on youngpeople’s broadcast marketing exposure in the UK”. 2018. Christopher Thomas,Lucie Hooper, Gillian Rosenberg, Fiona Thomas, Jyotsna Vohra. https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/sites/default/files/under_pressure.pdf
Jyotsna Vohra PhD is Head of the Cancer Policy Research Center at Cancer Research UK, where she is responsible for ensuring that there is robust evidence to support policy calls that will improve cancer patients care and outcomes. Jyotsna established this center for the largest independent funder into cancer research, globally, in 2014.
As part of its remit her team has led the way providing evidence to show how population measures can reduce the number of preventable cancers that are caused by behaviors such as tobacco use, obesity and alcohol consumption. Her work has been included in key UK government health plans/strategies, consultations and presented at key government select committees not to mention nationally and internationally at key conferences and meetings.
Jyotsna has previously worked for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health as their Research Manager and is passionate about ensuring equitable access to healthcare for all. She believes that if you have the ambition you will reach your goal and is a fan of the phrase “reach for the stars and you may reach the tree tops, but if you only ever reach for tree tops you will most likely hit the ground” and that’s how she like to tackle health disparities.