The Obesity Cancer Connection: Half a Million Cancers Caused by High Body Mass Index

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A new study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) finds an alarming obesity cancer connection, with as many as half a million cases of cancer a year occurring as a direct result of people being either overweight or obese.

The research looked at data from 2012, particularly focusing on body mass index (BMI). Individuals with a BMI of 25 or more are considered overweight, and a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.

In the study, published in the recent issue of the journal The Lancet Oncology, the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) explained that high BMIs, while already a risk factor for a number of health problems, have also become a major risk factor for developing cancer. In 2012, approximately 3.6 percent of cancer cases were directly related to obesity and a high BMI. That amounted to 481,000 cancer cases in 2012 alone. North America ranked highest in the obesity cancer connection with 111,000 cases—23 percent—of the global cancer cases in 2012 that resulted from a high BMI.

“[W]omen are disproportionately affected by obesity-related cancers,” reports Reuters, with an estimated ten percent of breast cancer cases preventable with proper weight management, the study found.

While the number of cancer cases connected to obesity were higher in developed countries throughout North America and the EU, the number of cancers “linked to obesity and overweight is expected to rise globally along with economic development," Christopher Wild, IARC's director said to Reuters. Already, Asian countries are seeing “tens of thousands” of obesity cancer connections, with China accounting for 1.6 percent of new cases in 2012. Africa’s obesity cancer connection amounted to about 1.5 percent in 2012.

In the U.S., not only is obesity a major cause of cancer, it's also the second most expensive "preventable" problem, found a recent study.

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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