Teenage BMI 'associated with future risk of cancer death in men'

In collaboration with Adfero

Men who are overweight at age 18 may be more likely to die from cancer in later life than those who are a healthy weight in early adulthood, UK and US scientists have found.

Researchers from the Medical Research Council, University College London and Harvard School of Public Health spotted the link after looking at the medical records of 19,593 men, all of whom attended Harvard between 1916 and 1950 and had enrolled in the Harvard Alumni Health Study.

They found that men with the highest body mass indexes (BMIs) - a measure of obesity - at age 18 were 35 per cent more likely to die from cancer than those with the lowest BMIs.

The researchers also looked at specific cancer types and found an association between weight at age 18 and risk of dying from lung, skin, oesophagus and kidney cancers.

Medical Research Council researcher Dr Linsay Gray, lead author of the study, which is published in the Annals of Oncology, said: "This is the first time the impact of obesity in early adulthood on later risk of cancer has been so closely examined. It is very interesting that higher BMI at age 18 actually leads to a greater risk for cancer than higher BMI in middle age.

"The message here is really clear: keeping your weight healthy as a young adult can significantly reduce your chance of developing cancer. These findings point worryingly to a greater future burden of cancer."

Lead scientist Professor David Batty, Wellcome Trust fellow at UCL, added: "Investigating the influence, if any, of obesity in late adolescence and early adulthood on future cancer risk requires studies that have the capacity to track individuals over many decades until they develop cancer.

"Because such studies are so rare, our results make an important contribution to the field."

Jessica Harris, Cancer Research UK's senior health information officer, said: "Decades of research have shown that being overweight leads to a higher risk of several types of cancer.

"This new study has some limitations, like not being able to account for other things that affect cancer risk, but it did show that overweight people are more likely to die from certain cancers. Scientists estimate that in the UK, the current number of people who are overweight and obese could lead to around 19,000 cases of cancer a year, so keeping a healthy weight is a great way to reduce the risk."

References

  • Gray, L., Lee, I., Sesso, H., & Batty, G. (2011). Association of body mass index in early adulthood and middle age with future site-specific cancer mortality: the Harvard Alumni Health Study Annals of Oncology DOI: 10.1093/annonc/mdr270