Obesity and sedentary lifestyle are cancer risk factors

March 30, 2012, 1:53 p.m.

Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle are both high risk factors for cancer, according to a new government report. (Credit: Pretty War Stl/Flickr Creative Commons)

Even though the overall rate of new cancer cases is on the decline, a new government report highlights a rise in cases linked to obesity and inactivity.

The "Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975-2008", which appeared in the journal Cancer on Wednesday, confirmed research that shows that excess weight and a sedentary lifestyle – both of which are particular problems for South Los Angeles – are risk factors for between 25 to 33 percent of common cancers in the country.

The director of the division of cancer prevention for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Marcus Plescia, told USA Today that many people don't know about the link between obesity in cancer, even though they might know that obesity is connected with ailments like diabetes, heart disease and arthritis.

Unhealthy weight and a sedentary lifestyle are close to tobacco in terms of cancer risk factors, said John Seffrin, CEO of the American Cancer Society.

"For people who do not smoke," he said in a press release, "excess weight and lack of physical activity may be among the most important risk factors for cancer."

The report listed several cancers that are associated with being either obese or not sufficiently physically active: cancers of the colon and rectum; kidney cancer; one type of esophageal cancer; pancreatic cancer; endometrial cancer; and breast cancer among menopausal women.

According to the report, obesity, in addition to being a risk factor, also has an adverse affect on quality of life for cancer survivors and can worsen the prognosis for some forms of the disease.

The National Center for Health Statistics, part of the CDC, reports that 36 percent of U.S. adults were obese in 2010, meaning they were at least 30 pounds heavier than a healthy weight. That's up from 35 percent in 2008, 31 percent in 2002, 23 percent in 1994 and just 15 percent in 1980.

Los Angeles County had not met a nationwide objective to reduce the overall cancer death rate by 2010 to a given level, but the number of cancer-related deaths in the county is falling. Between 2004 and 2008, an average 13,574 people in the county died of the disease every year, according to the National Cancer Institute.

And while the numbers aren't broken down for South L.A., the area's problems with obesity and overly-sedentary lifestyles are no secret. A report by the L.A. County Department of Public Health in 2006 found that nearly a third of South Los Angeles residents were obese, the highest of any of the county's eight service planning areas.

As far as all the sitting, the southside has a problem with that too – in addition to a cancer risk, another study also found that too much sitting can shorten lives. But a place like South L.A., or any inner-city area, is going to have less physical activity than normal, due to a lack of opportunities to exercise. People are also tired, because they have to work so much to stay afloat, and kids will often go unsupervised while parents are working and cultivate unhealthy habits that way.

The nation's cancer death rates as a whole decreased by an average of 1.6 percent between 2004 and 2008, according to the cancer report, which was co-authored by the CDC, the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society.

Photo by Pretty War Stl. via Flickr Creative Commons.

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