VEGA News Item

Fat Distribution and Risks of Cancer - 17/09/2010

New Evidence on the Significance of Body Shape

1.  Carrying fat round the waist raises the risk of cancer even if the rest of the body is slim, according to the recent results from a study confirming evidence that pear-shaped is probably preferable to apple-shaped in important healthy respects. For every extra inch on the waist above a healthy measurement, the risk of bowel cancer goes up 3%, according to results from research at Imperial College, London and the University of Leeds. A big waist circumference is a predictor of bowel cancer, regardless of the overall body mass index (BMI), the researchers concluded. About 38,500 cases of bowel cancer are diagnosed in Britain each year.

2.  The review provides the strongest evidence so far that the link remains true, even if the rest of the body is in proportion and the person is normal in weight or only moderately overweight. A healthy waist measurement is defined as less than 31.5 inches (80cm) for women, less than 37 inches (94) for white and black men and less than 35 inches (90cm) for Asian men. Experts always remind people to keep slim as they can without becoming overweight. Some experts draw hockey-stick curves for graphs of risk against consumption and adolescent and young women should ensure that they maintain a well-fed, active slim appearance. Many years ago VEGA received some congratulation from a government minister that all men’s trousers for a 100cm waistband or more should have an official warning stitched in, but the suggestion received short shrift and the minister abandoned the idea, however gently the warning was pitched.

3.  Professor Martin Wiseman, medical and scientific adviser for the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), which funded the study, said: “This latest study adds to the already strong evidence that carrying excess body fat increases your risk of cancer. Scientists now say that, after not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight is the most important thing you can do for cancer prevention. We estimate that more than 2,700 cases of bowel cancer in the UK could be prevented through people maintaining a healthy weight. But as well as confirming the link between body fat and bowel cancer, this study has strengthened the evidence that where we carry the fat is important. People who have a large waste should consider losing weight even if they are in the normal BMI range.

4.  Professor Wiseman carried out many years ago some research on connections between vegetarian diets and kidney function. His work in epidemiological studies has recently aroused the meat trades industry, because of risks that could be seen between consumption of meat and development of cancer.

5.  Putting on weight also increases the risks of bowel cancer. Dr Esther de Vries from the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam and colleags said that if Europeans put on weight at the same rate as in the USA, then by 2019 rates of bowel cancer would rise between 0.7% and 3.8%.


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