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November 7, 2018 | 4 minute read

New Report on What Drives U.S. Obesity-Cancer Crisis

Risk for Cancer Goes to the Next Level with Every Five Point Increase in BMI

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new Report from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) sounds the alarm about what is driving the obesity-cancer crisis. There is strong scientific evidence that having overweight and obesity cause at least 12 types of cancer. Disturbingly, over 70% of Americans have overweight or obesity according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And cancer risk increases across each higher category of Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI provides an estimate of body fatness with a healthy range falling between a BMI of 18.5 – 24.9, overweight between BMI 25 – 29.9, and a BMI of over 30 considered as obesity.

A mere five BMI points (kg/m2) separate the three basic BMI categories, and increased cancer risk is not confined to those with obesity; the risk increases for those with overweight too. For example, compared to those in the healthy BMI range (18.5 – 24.9), a BMI of 25 – 29.9 (overweight) increases liver cancer risk by 30% and a BMI over 30 increases that risk by 60%.

With overweight and obesity projected to overtake smoking as the biggest preventable cause of cancer, this new comprehensive Report by the American Institute for Cancer Research examines the lifestyle factors that are most strongly linked to weight gain, overweight, and obesity.

The Report presents strong evidence that walking, aerobic physical activity, food containing fiber, and “Mediterranean-type” diets rich in fruits and vegetables reduce the risk of weight gain, overweight, and obesity. Conversely, the Report says that sugar-sweetened drinks, fast foods, and “Western type” diets rich in meats and energy-dense proteins are strongly linked to increased weight gain, overweight, and obesity.

Dr. Nigel Brockton, Director of Research at AICR says, “The results of the Report raise some familiar themes but also some opportunities. It is significant that behaviors that either increase or reduce risk of weight gain, overweight, and obesity tend to be inter-related. For example, people who are physically active tend to have a healthier diet, while people who are not physically active often consume sugar-sweetened drinks alongside fast foods.”

The Report particularly draws attention to the evidence that greater screen time is a cause of weight gain, overweight, and obesity in children.

“Screen time is a marker of sedentary behavior, and may also be associated with low levels of physical activity, consuming high calorie snacks and drinks, and a constant barrage of marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks,” says Alice Bender, MS, RDN, Director of Nutrition Programs at AICR.

There is enormous opportunity to prevent future cancer cases, if changes can be made to stop and reverse the current trend of increasing overweight and obesity. In addition to helping individuals learn about healthy lifestyle choices, community and national policies play a crucial role in creating living spaces more conducive to physical activity and healthier food choices.

These evidence-based findings are important because they help policy makers develop and implement effective programs to prevent weight gain, overweight and obesity. AICR is urging Congress and federal agencies to improve funding for cancer prevention research, ensure that federal nutrition and physical activity guidelines reflect the latest research regarding cancer risk, to improve nutrition labeling, and to improve access to lifestyle interventions.

Note to editors:

This Report applied the same rigorous Continuous Update Project methods that were originally developed by AICR/WCRF to provide the best possible assessment of the links between diet, body fatness, physical activity and cancer. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses were analyzed to separate reliable evidence from individual opinions. An international independent panel of experts judged the evidence according to pre-determined criteria including volume, quality, and consistency of published research.

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