A study conducted by the American Cancer Society has found that the incidence of obesity-related cancers in the US is rising faster among millennials than it is among older age groups.
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The society says a steep increase in the prevalence of obesity over the last 40 years may have increased the risk among younger people and that the problem could be a set back to the recent progress made in addressing cancer.
An analysis of millions of records covering health data from between 1995 and 2014 showed that the incidence rate of six out of 12 obesity-related cancers had increased, especially among people aged under 50 years.
As reported in The Lancet Public Health, the incidence increased significantly for multiple myeloma and colorectal, gallbladder, kidney, pancreatic and uterine cancer among young adults (aged 25 to 49 years). Sharper rises were observed among successively younger generations and particularly among millennials (in their 20s and 30s).
“The risk of developing an obesity-related cancer seems to be increasing in a stepwise manner in successively younger birth cohorts in the USA,” writes the team.
The research suggests that the rapid rise in obesity over the last few decades may account for the observed trend, with "younger generations worldwide experiencing an earlier and longer exposure to the dangers of extra weight."
Study author Dr. Ahmedin Jemal says the study exposes a recent change that could serve as a warning of an increased burden of obesity-related cancers to come in older adults:
Most cancers occur in older adults, which means that as the young people in our study age, the burden of obesity-related cancer cases and deaths are likely to increase even more.”
Dr. Ahmedin Jemal, Study Author
However, the authors point out that the increases were only seen for half of the 12 obesity-related cancers and that cancers associated with infection and smoking were declining in younger age groups.
This suggests that further epidemiological studies monitoring the trends in cancer incidence among younger adults could be beneficial.
“Further studies are needed to elucidate exposures responsible for these emerging trends, including excess body weight and other risk factors,” concludes the team.