Obesity-related cancers are on the rise among young adults, a new study says. According to a new study published in The Lancet Public Health, cancers thought to be driven in part by excess weight are on the rise among Americans under the age of 50.
Researchers found that six of 12 cancers related to obesity have increased in successive generations of young adults, mirroring the decades-long increase in obesity in the United States.
“This finding signals an increased burden of obesity-related cancers in older adults in the future and calls for actions to mitigate this burden,” said lead author Dr. Ahmedin Jemal, the scientific vice president of surveillance and health services research at the American Cancer Society.
Researchers analyzed data from a central database of state cancer registries. They focused on new cancer diagnoses between 1995 and 2014 of 30 types of cancer. Out of the 30 types, 12 types are associated partly with obesity.
Over the 20-year period, there were 14.7 million new cancer diagnoses of the 30 cancers studied. Diagnosis rates decreased for eight types of cancer including those associated with HIV and smoking.
Diagnoses rates increased for six out of the 12 cancers related to obesity. These cancers include colorectal, endometrial, gallbladder, kidney, pancreas, and multiple myeloma cancers. Many of those diagnosed with these cancers were young adults
The study found that, when comparing the annual rise in new cases of kidney cancer, Americans between the ages of 25 and 29 saw a 6.23% increase compared to the 3% increase of those aged 45 to 49.
Compared to the annual rise in new cases of pancreatic cancer, Americans aged 25 to 29 saw a 4.3% increase. Those between age 45 to 49 only saw a 1% increase.
For young adults born in 1985, the rate of colorectal, endometrial, pancreatic, and gallbladder cancers have doubled since 1950. Millennials are five times as likely to develop kidney cancer than baby boomers.
“Less than half of primary care physicians regularly assess body mass index despite national screening recommendations,” said Jemal. “Further, only a third of patients report receiving a diagnosis or weight loss counseling.”
Jemal says that public health measures such as restricting the advertising of unhealthy calorie-laden foods could help; the third largest industry in the U.S. is packaging. It would also help, Jemal says, to promote more campaigns for healthy lifestyle choices.
But it’s also important to remember the factors that cause obesity and other health conditions. For instance, a respiratory illness doesn’t cause itself; there’s a reason why carpets ought to be cleaned once every year.
So what’s a major factor in America’s obesity? Low income.
Low-income communities are more likely to experience childhood obesity than high-income communities, and the wealth gap between middle and upper-class Americans has been steadily widening for years.
In fact, according the U.S. census, up to 40 million Americans are living in poverty. And 43% of households that live below the poverty line are unable to acquire sufficient, healthy food.
In a similar context, low-income communities are more likely to be impacted by the opioid epidemic because they have less access to methadone treatment programs. Instead, these communities try to rely on abstinence-based, non-medical treatments that only have a success rate of 5%.
Low-income families are also less able to afford gym memberships and may not feel safe being active outside if they live in a violent area. What’s more, areas of poverty have fewer parks and athletic facilities. Although vacations are an option (Alaska has over 75 parks), not many low-income families can afford to travel.
Another study conducted by the University of Michigan Health System found that obesity rates were higher among children in African-American and Hispanic communities. But the relationship between obesity and race disappeared when researchers factored in family income.
When poverty rises, said lead author Dr. Kim Eagle, so does the rate of obesity among children. Fewer resources like parks, recreational programs, and access to full service grocery stores have a greater impact on the nation’s childhood obesity rate.