Q&A: Obesity’s Link to Cancer

CURE, Fall 2012, Volume 11, Issue 3

Q: Does obesity cause cancer?

Q: Does obesity cause cancer?

A: Most of us are aware that being overweight or obese is not good for our health, and can result in a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, among other diseases. But many folks don’t know that being overweight or obese can also increase their risk of cancer.

Researchers began investigating the connection between excess weight and dying from cancer relatively recently. They found that 14 percent of cancer deaths in men and 20 percent in women were impacted by weight, with a variety of cancers on the list. There are a number of theories about why this happens, but truth be told, we don’t know for certain.

Many of us are concerned that if we don’t do something to stem the rising tide of being overweight and obese in the U.S., we are destined to reverse some of the longevity gains we have seen in this country. Not doing anything is like sticking our heads in the sand and hoping the problem will go away.

Changing our diets and the way we lead our lives by including more exercise are but two examples of what we need to do. Carefully examining the relationship of what we eat to what we weigh has led to the conclusion that certain foods and drinks are more consistently related to being overweight and obese. One focus is on how many sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) we are consuming. Although not the sole cause of the problem, decreasing SSBs was one of the recommendations contained in recently published nutrition guidelines from the American Cancer Society.

We need to take this seriously if we are committed to living long and healthy lives. Perhaps this is a good time to evaluate your diet and your daily exercise. Making changes is difficult, but there is no time like right now to do what you need to do to protect your health.

—Len Lichtenfeld, MD, is deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. Send questions to editor@curetoday.com.