Obesity and cancer: An update of the global impact

Cancer Epidemiol. 2016 Apr:41:8-15. doi: 10.1016/j.canep.2016.01.003. Epub 2016 Jan 14.


In view of the growing global obesity epidemic, this paper reviews the relation between recent trends in body mass index (BMI) and the changing profile of cancer worldwide. By examining seven selected countries, each representing a world region, a pattern of increasing BMI with region and gender-specific diversity is noted: increasing levels of BMI were most pronounced in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia), rather modest in Eastern Asia (India) and generally more rapid in females than in males. This observation translates into a disproportionate distribution of cancer attributable to high levels of BMI, ranging by sex from 4-9% in Saudi Arabia and from 0.2-1.2% in India. Overweight and obesity may also influence cancer outcomes, and hence have a varying impact on cancer survival and death in different world regions. Future challenges in cancer studies exploring the association with overweight and obesity concern the measurement of adiposity and its potentially cumulative effect over the life course. Given the limitations of BMI as an imperfect measure of body fatness, routine anthropometric data collection needs to be extended to develop more informative measures, such as waist circumference in settings where the gold standard tools remain unaffordable. Furthermore, questions surrounding the dose-response and timing of obesity and their associations with cancer remain to be answered. Improved surveillance of health risk factors including obesity as well as the scale and profile of cancer in every country of the world is urgently needed. This will enable the design of cost-effective actions to curb the growing burden of cancer related to excess body weight.

Keywords: Body mass index; Cancer; Global; Obesity; Overweight.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue
  • Anthropometry
  • Body Mass Index
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Overweight / epidemiology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Waist Circumference