Being overweight or obese puts you at five more risk of developing cancer than previously thought, according to a “groundbreaking” study.
Researchers from the World Health Organization have found that people who are overweight between the ages of 18 and 40 are more likely to contract 18 different types of the deadly disease.
They tracked the BMI status of more than 2.6 million people over their lifetime to see how it affected their risk.
New cancers linked to weight included leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and, in people who have never smoked, head, neck and bladder cancer.
The co-leader of the study, Dr. Heinz Freisling of the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer said doctors need to be aware of the greater risk of cancer in obese people.
He said: “The results of our study support a reassessment of the cancer burden associated with overweight and obesity, which is currently likely to be underestimated.”
Around 38 per cent of adults in England are overweight and a further 26 per cent are obese.
Experts estimate that around 3 million Britons are currently living with cancer, with the number expected to rise to 5.3 million by 2040.
Previously, the WHO linked overweight or obesity to at least 13 different types of cancer
The study, published in Nature Communications, examined the health records of people in Catalonia, Spain, from 2009 to 2018.
At the start of the study, none had cancer, and by the end, 225,396 people had been diagnosed with cancer.
Researchers found that people who were overweight or obese had a higher risk of developing 18 types of cancer, including the five newly identified ones.
dr Talita Duarte-Sallés from the Institut d’investigació en Atenció Primària de Salut Jordi Gol said: “These compelling results support the implementation of primary care-based strategies for cancer prevention.”
“These should have a strong focus on the prevention and reduction of early overweight and obesity.
“This groundbreaking research represents a significant milestone in understanding the complex relationship between overweight/obesity and cancer risk.
“With these findings, the global community has a powerful new tool to design targeted interventions, develop effective prevention strategies, and ultimately have a significant impact on cancer outcomes worldwide.”
dr Panagiota Mitrou of the World Cancer Research Fund said: “This large study has future public health implications as other cancers such as leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma have been shown to be linked to overweight and obesity.”
“Our own findings show that maintaining a healthy weight throughout life is one of the most important things people can do to reduce their risk of cancer and that early prevention in adulthood is crucial.”