The link between obesity and cancer has been well-established long before today’s findings, as cancers associated with being overweight include breast, pancreatic, and colorectal. Other chronic diseases under this umbrella include cardiovascular disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes.
What separates a new Michigan State University study from the past is just how cancer forms from obesity and how body mass index, BMI, may or may not indicate a cancer risk.
As discussed in a recent Health article, a study published in the British Journal of Cancer culminated data from seven previous studies involving 43,000+ adults who were studied over the course of 12 years. Throughout this time period, over 1,600 subjects were diagnosed with an obesity-related cancer. “Overall, the researchers found that every standard-deviation increase in waist circumference—equal to about 4.3 inches—was associated with a 13% increased risk of obesity-related cancers.” While the study focused on middle to older-aged men and women (since BMI is thought to become decreasingly predictable of disease risks as people age), younger people should pay attention as well, since actions now set us up for the future—and that includes our health. National Cancer Institute’s Obesity and Cancer Fact Sheet points out that “many observational studies have provided consistent evidence that people who have lower weight gain during adulthood have lower risks of colon cancer, kidney cancer, and—for postmenopausal women—breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancers.” More and more of the children and adolescents of America are obese: from 2011-2014, app. 17% of 6- to 11-year-olds, and 20% of 12- to 19-year-olds were overweight. Around 17% of U.S. youth ages 2- to 19-year-olds were obese. All the more reason to instill a healthy routine in our youth.
Regardless of age and gender, there is evidence enough to encourage better diet and exercise habits that we will discuss a bit later.
Abdominal fat and tumor growth
The Michigan State University study details the harmful risk that lies below. There are two layers of belly fat: subcutaneous fat, the top layer, which lies directly underneath the skin; the second, called visceral fat, is the one found to be more harmful, according to Jamie Bernard, lead author and assistant professor in pharmacology and toxicology. Claimed by Science Daily, “Bernard and her co-author Debrup Chakraborty, a postdoctoral student in her lab, studied mice that were fed a high-fat diet and discovered that this higher-risk layer of fat produced larger amounts of the fibroblast growth factor-2, or FGF2, protein when compared to the subcutaneous fat.” The two found that FGF2 catalyzed certain cells that were pre-susceptible to the protein and turned these cells into tumors. Bernard furthers her conclusions with “our study suggests that body mass index, or BMI, may not be the best indicator [of a cancer risk].” It is the abdominal obesity holding the FGF2 protein that better indicates the risk of cells becoming cancerous. But in the new paper published in the British Journal of Cancer, a separate examination of colorectal cancer alone showed that “increases in BMI, waist circumference, and hip circumference were associated with 16%, 21%, and 15% increased risk, respectively. In other words, the author says, being overweight or obese appears to raise the risk of cancer—no matter how you measure it.”
What We Can Do
Though our control over our susceptibility to cancer is limited by genetics, there are indeed ways we can help ourselves and decrease risks. Professor Bernard told Daily Mail UK “…by making smarter choices when it comes to diet and exercise and avoiding harmful habits like smoking, people can always help skew the odds in their favor.” This includes avoiding high consumptions of sugary foods and exercising regularly.
After uncovering these new findings, healthy eating and exercise might just have a new ring to it.