Although cancer rates in the United States have generally decreased in the past few decades, certain cancers are on the rise, especially in younger people. A study conducted by the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute reveals that adolescent obesity could be the reason.
The study was published in Lancet Public Health, and it looked at data from 12 obesity-related cancers between 1995 and 2014. The results showed that rates of six cancers — multiple myeloma, colorectal, endometrial, gallbladder, kidney, and pancreatic — increased in adults ages 25-49.
As the world has seen great advancements in technology over the past few decades, the amount of physical activity in children and young adults has gone down. This is merely one factor that’s contributed to rising obesity rates. Federal data shows that nearly 36% of adults ages 20-39 are obese, and that number is only increasing. If the trends continue the way they are, 57% of U.S. children will be obese by age 35.
Although most cancers develop in older adults, this study shows that the greatest increase in these cancers are showing in younger people. Take pancreatic cancer, for example. Between 1995 and 2014, case occurrence increased by 0.77% per year in adults ages 45-49, 2.47% in adults ages 30-34, and 4.34% in adults ages 25-29. Kidney cancer showed the most significant increase in young adults at 6.23%.
We don’t always know what exactly causes cancer and how we can prevent it. Some cancers have more clear risk factors than others. For instance, smoking certainly can cause lung cancer and HPV can certainly cause cervical cancer. But most cancers develop as a result of a variety of things, including genetics, lifestyle, and other health issues. Obesity is one of the most significant factors in these cases. Studies have shown that those with excess body weight make up about 40% of cancer cases in the United States.
How does obesity cause cancer?
There are a few ways that being obese can increase your cancer risk. For on, having excess body weight creates a lot of inflammation in your body, which can cause autoimmune diseases and fuel the growth of cancerous cells. It’s also been shown that obesity can change sex hormones, growth hormones, and insulin levels, all of which can stimulate cancer cell growth. Lastly, people who are obese tend to also consume foods that increase cancer risk, such as unhealthy fats, processed meats, and sugary snacks.
Although researchers state that we can’t pinpoint the recent cancer increases entirely to obesity, this report does show a correlation between increases in obesity and increases in younger cancer diagnoses. Weight is almost certainly a factor that increases cancer risk, excluding cancers like leukemia.
What can we do to mitigate this issue?
Doctors need to focus on preventing obesity in children and young adults. The effects of obesity could be deadly later in life. Parents should try to place more focus on physical activity like sports and outdoor play rather than video games and TV time. Proper nutrition is also one of the most important ways to prevent obesity. A diet low in unhealthy fats, excess sugars, and processed foods will go a long way in preventing future obesity. The younger you start, the more these habits will be ingrained in your child for life.