A HEALTHY lifestyle could prevent 12,000 cancer cases every year, researchers say.
The largest study of its kind has found that being overweight or obese is directly responsible for thousands of people in Britain being struck by the deadly disease.
Study leader Dr Krishnan Bhaskaran, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “The number of people who are overweight or obese is rapidly increasing.
“It is well recognised that this is likely to cause more diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Our results show that if these trends continue, we can also expect to see substantially more cancers as a result.”
The research involving more than five million adults in the UK has found that being overweight or obese is directly linked to causing 10 common cancers and more than 12,000 cases every year.
The scientists from the school and London’s Farr Institute of Health Informatics said that if average body mass index in the population continues to increase, that figure could go up by more than 3,500 each year.
Writing in a linked comment piece in The Lancet, Dr Peter Campbell from the American Cancer Society in the US, called for a range of action, including taxing sugar-rich foods and soft drinks.
We have sufficient evidence that obesity is an important cause of death from many forms of cancer. More research is not needed to justify, or even demand, policy changes aimed at curbing obesity
Dr Peter Campbell from the American Cancer Society
He said: “We have sufficient evidence that obesity is an important cause of death from many forms of cancer. More research is not needed to justify, or even demand, policy changes aimed at curbing obesity.”
Dr Campbell said strategies should aim to cut calorie intake or increase physical activity.
They could include taxes on high-calorie, nutritionally sparse foods such as sugar-sweetened beverages, subsidies for healthier items and urban planning aimed at encouraging physical activity.
Using data from GP records in the UK’s Clinical Practice Research Datalink, the researchers identified 5.24 million people aged 16 and older who were cancer-free and had been followed for an average of 7.5 years.
The risk of developing cancer was measured according to BMI after adjusting for factors such as age, sex, smoking status, and socioeconomic status.
A total of 166,955 people developed one of the 22 cancers studied over the follow-up period.
Of the 22, BMI was associated with 17, including cancer of the liver, uterus, cervix and thyroid.
Tom Stansfeld, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: “This study found new links between obesity and several different cancer types, highlighting the number of cancers that obesity causes in the UK.
“Although the relationship between cancer and obesity is complex, it’s clear that carrying excess weight increases your risk of developing cancer.”