While eating healthy and staying physically active can reduce the risk of strokes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease, it also plays a crucial role in reducing the risk of cancer.
An alarming new study from the United Kingdom claims that obesity now trumps smoking as the leading cause of four different types of cancer in Britain. The study, released by Cancer Research UK, says that excess weight causes 1,900 more cases of bowel cancer than smoking in Britain each year.
It was a similar result for cancer of the kidneys, with 1,400 more cases caused by being overweight than smoking. The study also found that obesity caused 460 more ovary cancer cases than smoking in the UK and 180 more liver cancer cases.
Researchers say extra body fat sends out signals that can tell cells to divide more often. Similar to smoking, it can also cause damage that builds up over time and increases the risk of cancer.
“Scientists have so far identified that obesity causes 13 types of cancer but the mechanisms aren’t fully understood,” Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive said in a statement. “So further research is needed to find out more about the ways extra body fat can lead to cancer.”
Experts are also calling on governments to highlight the very real risk of obesity causing cancer, noting that similar campaigns have resulted in less people smoking.
“There isn’t a silver bullet to reduce obesity, but the huge fall in smoking over the years – partly thanks to advertising and environmental bans – shows that Government-led change works,” Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert, said. “It was needed to tackle sky-high smoking rates, and now the same is true for obesity.”
The research also claimed that the modern world doesn’t make it easy to be healthy and while governments need to take action, there are changes people can make to their diet and lifestyle to reduce the risk.
“Small things like swapping junk food for healthier options and keeping active can all add up to help reduce cancer risk,” Bauld said.
Obesity is a growing problem around the world, with the 2017-18 Australian Bureau of Statistics National Health Survey showing that 67 per cent of Australian adults (12.5 million people) are obese. This increased from 63.4 per cent in 2014-15.
Previous research published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics also found that a third of cancer cases are estimated to be linked to dietary and other modifiable risk factors. This was especially true for obesity-related cancers included breast, colorectal, ovarian, endometrial, kidney, gallbladder, oesophageal and pancreatic cancers.
While dietary interventions including calorie restriction, intermittent fasting and low-fat diets may reverse major drivers of obesity-related cancer, more clinical data is required to confirm this. It’s always important to talk to your GP or a health professional about weight and if this is putting you at risk of cancer and other serious health issues.
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