Energy intake, overweight, physical exercise and colorectal cancer risk

Eur J Cancer Prev. 1999 Dec;8 Suppl 1:S53-60.


Epidemiological studies on risk factors for CRC have focused mainly on diet. In any case, the results of these studies show several inconsistencies, except for the beneficial role of high intake of vegetables and, to some lesser extent, of fruit. Weight and height have also been studied, partly because they reflect the balance between energy intake and expenditure in different age periods. Energy intake, body size and physical activity will be reviewed in this paper focusing mostly on recent data coming from Italian, English and Scandinavian studies. Overweight has long been recognized as a risk factor for hormone related and other cancers and this is confirmed not simply from case-control studies but from large cohort studies as well. The major findings of recent Italian studies are that excessive weight at various ages predicts colorectal cancer risk in men while in women, abdominal obesity, as indicated by a high WHR, represents a more reliable risk indicator. If all men could reduce their BMI below 25, about 9% of male colorectal cancer might be avoided in Italy. A decrease of WHR below 0.82 might reduce colorectal cancer in women by 19%. In addition, the epidemiological evidence consistently shows that physical activity reduces the risk of colon cancer. On the contrary, evidence on rectal cancer is less impressive. Some uncertainty still exists in relation to the intensity and duration of physical activity. In conclusion, body size control along all life and physical activity represent important factors to prevent colon cancer and a wide range of chronic conditions. Therefore, strategies to favour these goals through counselling from health-care providers, regulatory changes and programs aimed at individuals and communities should be implemented.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Energy Intake*
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Italy / epidemiology
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution