NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Obesity and Cancer

April 28, 2003

As if there already weren't other reasons to lose weight, a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine has found significant links between obesity and cancer. Cancer was greatest in those with the highest body weight, involving a body mass index of 40 or above. [To calculate body mass index, see] Researchers followed 900,000 individuals over 16 years, 57,000 of which died of cancer. Increased body weight was not only associated with increased death rates for all cancers, but also for cancers at multiple specific sites.

  • Men with a body mass index of 40 or above have a 52 percent increase in the odds of getting cancer.
  • For women it's even higher, with a 62 percent increase in the cancer incidence for women with a body mass index of 40 or greater.
  • Thus cancer deaths in one in seven men, and one in five women, are attributable to obesity.

Moreover, specific cancers have increased incidence greater than average rates. The most obese men have rates of liver cancer 4.2 times greater than those who are not obese while the most obese women, compared to non-obese women, have more kidney and uterus cancers, at 4.75 times and 6.25 times greater rates, respectively.

Source: Eugenia E. Calle, et al., "Overweight, Obesity, and Mortality from Cancer in a Prospectively Studies Cohort of U.S. Adults, New England Journal of Medicine, April 24, 2003.


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