Younger people getting cancer due to obesity

Obesity rates around the globe are ballooning - literally! Approximately 1.9 billion adults who are 18 years and older were overweight in 2016, and of these, more than 650 million were obese. The number of obese people has nearly tripled since 1975.

Among younger people, the rates of obesity increase uncontrollably. An estimated 340 million children and adolescents between the ages of 5 and 19 years old were overweight or obese in the same year.

In a new study published in the journal JAMA Network Open, a team of researchers at the Case Western Reserve University wanted to determine the shift in age distribution for obesity-related cancers.

There has been a shift of obesity-associated cancer burden to younger age groups. Image Credit: Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock
There has been a shift of obesity-associated cancer burden to younger age groups. Image Credit: Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock

Alarming findings

They found that between 2000 and 2016, the number of people diagnosed with incident obesity-associated cancers increased in younger age groups, with some of the biggest increase for liver, thyroid, gallbladder, and biliary cancers. Also, among women, the incident of uterine cancer boomed among younger age groups.

In past studies, scientists have linked being overweight or obese with certain cancers, and the increased incidence of obesity-associated cancers (OACs) in younger people. Typically, these types of cancers are seen in people who are more than 65 years old. The greatest increase was seen in non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic women and men where the rates of the cancers soared by 200 to 400 percent.

"We were struck by the shift in obesity-associated cancers to people in the 20 to 49 age group, but most notably to those in the 50 to 64 age range," Siran Koroukian, faculty with the School of Medicine and member of the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, said in a statement.

"Keep in mind that the population aged 50 to 64 increased in number by nearly 52% in that time frame, so the absolute numbers of people affected by these changes are substantial. It also is notable that the percent increase of obesity-associated cancer cases was highest among non-Hispanic black and Hispanic women and men,” he added.

The researchers acquired their data from individuals living in Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results sites who were diagnosed with incident OACs and non-OACs between 2000 and 2016. They performed data analysis between 2018 and 2019.

“This study indicates that from 2000 to 2016, a shift toward younger age groups occurred in incident OACs. The findings have important public health implications and suggest that interventions to reduce obesity and to implement individualized screening programs are needed,” the researchers concluded in the paper.

The researchers hope that health officials and governments conduct public health education efforts to address the impact of obesity on the quality of life of their constituents. The study is important to open the doors for interventions geared toward curbing obesity and letting people know the grave complications that come with it.

Obesity-associated cancers (OAC) include cancers of the rectum, colon, uterus, ovary, female breast, gallbladder, and other biliary organs. The other types of OACs include cancers of the stomach, esophagus, liver, pancreas, kidney and renal pelvis, intrahepatic bile duct, thyroid, and multiple myeloma.

The researchers recommend further research on the area, to make sure the stage of cancer when the illness was diagnosed, but, in younger populations, cancers are detected at later stages, leading to poor prognosis and premature death.

Obesity is preventable

Obesity is a common and preventable condition of clinical and public health importance. It is often underestimated, but it serves as a major risk factor for the development of many non-communicable diseases, which all can lead to disability and premature death.

Obesity has been linked to various health conditions, including cardiovascular diseases like hypertension, stroke and heart attack, heart problem, diabetes, and some forms of cancer.

Weight loss is linked to many health and economic benefits. By applying effective weight loss strategies for people who are overweight and obese, their risk of developing complications is reduced.

Many measures can help battle obesity, which includes diet modification, eating a healthy diet, engaging in physical activities, and avoiding unhealthy practices, like smoking.

Journal reference:

Koroukian, S., Dong, W., and Berger, N. (2019). Changes in Age Distribution of Obesity-Associated Cancers. JAMA Network Open.

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Written by

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Angela is a nurse by profession and a writer by heart. She graduated with honors (Cum Laude) for her Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Baguio, Philippines. She is currently completing her Master's Degree where she specialized in Maternal and Child Nursing and worked as a clinical instructor and educator in the School of Nursing at the University of Baguio.


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