Another good reason for weight loss and weight management
A good diet. Regular exercise. Weight management. For years we've known this healthy trinity as the basis for personal behavior choices that can reduce risk factors for a number of medical conditions, most notably cardiovascular disease. Now, a considerable body of research tells us that the same combination also holds the potential to protect us against cancer.

In fact, studies conducted and analyzed by the American Institute for Cancer Research indicate that we can prevent about one third of all cancers by maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthier diet – with the emphasis on plant-based choices – and taking part in regular physical activity. In this and upcoming My Healthy Lifestyle online newsletters we will look at reducing the risk of cancer through healthier eating, exercise and weight management practices, beginning in this issue with a focus on weight.

obesity-bmiThe Relationship between Obesity and Cancer
The highly publicized and well documented obesity epidemic is one of our country's most serious public health problems. Since 1980, adult obesity rates have doubled while childhood rates have more than tripled. The National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) estimates the percentage of adults who are overweight (a Body Mass Index between 25 and 25.9) to be more than 68%. At the same time, over 35% of adults are obese – having a BMI of 30 or above.

These conditions create a major strain on the healthcare system and contribute increased rates of more than 30 serious diseases, including a number of types of cancer. While more research is needed, one of the principal connections between obesity and cancer is the fact that excess weight (because fat is a biologically active substance) can cause the body to produce substances, including estrogen and insulin, that can promote tumor growth.

According to a large scale American Cancer Society study, obesity has been closely associated with increased mortality from cancers of the colon, breast (in postmenopausal women), endometrium and kidneys. As part of the growing evidence linking obesity and cancer, a groundbreaking study published several years ago in the New England Journal of Medicine blamed excess weight for up to half of all deaths from breast cancer.

In addition, supplementary research carried out by the National Cancer Institute indicates that pancreatic, thyroid, gallbladder, cervical, ovarian, Hodgkin lymphoma and prostate cancers may be linked to overweight and obesity.

Along with increasing the risk of cancer, studies also show that obesity can impact cancer survivorship. Not only that, but according to research carried out at the University of California, Berkeley, obese women are more likely to skip cancer screenings like mammograms. So it's a downward spiraling cycle in that millions of women who are obese not only increase their cancer risk because of their weight, but they also become less likely to get the screenings and tests they need.

Controlling Your Weight: A Very Quick Overview
Although the rapid increase over the past few decades is beginning to plateau, the extensive number of overweight people in the U.S. has created an equally extensive response from the healthcare field as well as the media and an entire industry devoted to weight loss. In past issues of My Healthy Lifestyle we have looked at a number of weight management strategies including the dangers of fad diets and last month's (December 2012) article on weight loss journaling.

Because of the significant body of information available, your online newsletter will not attempt to offer a comprehensive guide to weight loss and weight management, but rather a brief review of current thought.

What we know about weight control, and have known for quite some time, is that it generally responds effectively to lower caloric intake, overall healthier eating and regular physical activity. Because of the link between obesity and cancer, bringing these approaches together takes on even greater significance.

A good first step is to watch portion sizes in general, but especially of foods that are high in calories, fat and added sugars. Then cut back, way back in many cases, on those same not-so-healthy foods and drinks.

The introduction of healthier foods into your diet, including those rich in fiber and whole grains, with a corresponding reduction in red meat and processed foods, is the next step. There is also evidence that some specific nutrients in fruits and vegetables can help protect against certain types of cancer.

In upcoming issues of My Healthy Lifestyle, we'll look at some of these foods. We'll also discuss the essential role of regular physical activity in weight control and, consequently, cancer prevention.

Controlling Your Weight: Some Specific Resources
Within the Riverside Health System there are a number of resources that can help you in your efforts to lose and manage weight.

  • Through the Riverside Health Plan, eligible employees and dependents have access to a personalized Wellness Coaching Program that can help participants achieve health and wellness goals, including meal and exercise planning. This free service is available through Health Advocate. For information go to the member website, or call (866) 799-2643.
  • The Riverside Medical and Surgical Weight Loss Center offers a comprehensive weight loss program that focuses on individuals who have not been successful with other weight loss methods. For information email or call (757) 637-7637.
  • Resources at the Riverside Wellness & Fitness Center – Peninsula include Dietcise, an 8-week weight loss and weight management program that combines exercise and nutrition education. For information call (757) 875-7533 or (757) 875-7525, extension 310.

While the relationship between obesity and cancer risk is well established, the link between weight loss and reduced risk is less documented, though research continues. In all cases, if you are overweight or obese, losing even a small amount of weight has health benefits that can make an important difference in the duration and quality of your life.

Be sure to "stay tuned" to your My Healthy Lifestyle newsletter for more on the role that lifestyle choices make in protecting you against cancer.