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Obesity and cancer prevention: What you should know

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berries and weights - energy foods.JPGBy Katie Bispeck


It is well-known that obesity is an enormous problem in the United States. More than one-third of U.S. adults are considered obese. 18%  of children ages 6-11 and 18% of adolescents ages 12-19 are obese.

Obesity has been shown to contribute to the development of many diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, high cholesterol and osteoarthritis.

But research also shows that obesity can increase a person's risk of many types of cancer, including breast (after menopause), colon and rectum, endometrial, esophageal (adenocarcinoma), kidney, thyroid, gallbladder and pancreatic cancers.

Scientists say that obesity will soon be the number one preventable cause of cancer and that we should expect to see about 500,000 new cases of cancer as a result of obesity by 2030.

Defining obesity: What your BMI means
The term obese is used to describe a person with an unhealthy proportion of body fat. It's measured by taking a ratio of height-versus-weight. This is called your Body Mass Index (BMI). Adults with a BMI of 30 or more are considered obese. This is typically 50 pounds overweight.

To determine your own BMI, take your weight (kilograms) and divide it by your height (meters squared).

Obesity has become such an important issue that the American Medical Association has recently classified it as a disease.

What you can do to help reduce your risk of obesity and cancer
One of the best things you can do to help reduce your risk of cancer and obesity is to exercise daily and follow a healthy diet that includes portion control.

The American Cancer Society recommends at least 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise every week.

The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends:

  • Being physically active for at least 30 minutes each day
  • Eating a variety of vegetables and fruit with every meal
  • Limiting red meat and avoiding processed meat
  • Maintaining a healthy weight, which is a BMI of 19-24
You can also see if you're at risk for obesity and obesity-related diseases by measuring your waist circumference. Men with a circumference greater than 40 inches and women greater than 35 inches are considered obese and are at a much greater risk for developing heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

MD Anderson resources to help you avoid obesity
The Integrative Medicine Program offered through MD Anderson's Cancer Prevention Center offers services that can help keep your weight and cancer risks in check. This program includes meeting with a health educator, registered dietitian and an exercise physiologist to set up a personalized plan for you. The Cancer Prevention Center also offers mammograms, skin screenings, gynecological screenings, lung cancer and prostate screenings and colonoscopies. 

You can also participate in several cancer prevention studies through the Cancer Prevention Center. Participating in one of these studies is a great opportunity to contribute to medical research while also potentially improving your own health.

One current study, called Project LEAP (lowering endometrial cancer risk through activity, nutrition and preventive medicine), focuses on endometrial cancer prevention. It's aimed at overweight, post-menopausal women between the ages of 50 and 60. 

Project LEAP seeks to determine if we can decrease a person's risk of endometrial cancer through lifestyle and drug intervention, which includes weekly meetings with a dietitian and supervised exercise sessions. By participating, you can potentially improve your diet and increase your physical activity level. 

Watch the video below or visit our current studies page to learn more about Project LEAP. 

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