A game-changing report on obesity and health

How body fatness & weight gain affect cancer risk

Anyone seriously interested in the effect of obesity on health should read this new report - released today - from the World Cancer Research Fund International and the American Institute of Cancer Research: "Energy balance and body fatness – the determinants of weight gain, overweight and obesity".

Obesity and “overweight”, characterised by excess body fat, are widely considered to be some of the most pressing public health concerns of this century.

Over the past fifty years, the global prevalence of people living with overweight and obesity has increased dramatically. Some 1.97 billion adults are living with overweight or obesity, with these numbers projected to rise. Although the rate of increase has begun to slow in some high-income countries, the prevalence of obesity has tended to accelerate in low- and middle-income countries. These accelerations have occurred in tandem with considerable changes in food systems and dietary patterns.

Overweight and obesity is occurring at an ever earlier age, increasing lifetime exposure to the associated risks.

The report identifies 12 cancers linked to greater body fatness:

  • Mouth, pharynx and larynx
  • Oesophagus (adenocarcinoma)
  • Stomach (cardia)
  • Pancreas
  • Gallbladder
  • Liver
  • Colorectum
  • Breast (postmenopause)
  • Ovary
  • Endometrium
  • Prostate (advanced)
  • Kidney.

Major findings

There is strong evidence that:

  • Aerobic physical activity DECREASES the risk of weight gain, overweight and obesity
  • Walking protects against weight gain, overweight and obesity
  • Consuming foods containing dietary fibre DECREASES the risk of weight gain, overweight and obesity
  • Consuming a "Mediterranean type" dietary pattern DECREASES the risk of weight gain, overweight and obesity
  • Having been breastfed DECREASES the risk of excess weight gain, overweight and obesity for children
  • Greater screen time INCREASES the risk of weight gain, overweight and obesity
  • Consuming sugar sweetened drinks INCREASES the risk of weight gain, overweight and obesity
  • Consuming "fast foods" INCREASES the risk of weight gain, overweight and obesity
  • Consuming a "Western type" diet INCREASES the risk of weight gain, overweight and obesity.

There is limited evidence that:

  • Consuming wholegrains might DECREASE the risk of weight gain, overweight and obesity
  • Consuming fruit and vegetables might DECREASE the risk of weight gain, overweight and obesity
  • Breastfeeding (lactation) might DECREASE the risk of weight gain, overweight and obesity for the mother
  • Sedentary behaviours might INCREASE the risk of weight gain, overweight and obesity
  • Consuming refined grains might INCREASE the risk of weight gain, overweight and obesity.

Clearly, not smoking and being careful in the sun are also important.

See the energy balance and body fatness infographic .

Energy balance and body fatness

The determinants of weight gain, overweight and obesity

Read the report