Heavy Teens & Risk of Cancer as Adults

teens_cancer_weightBody weight as a teenager may influence the likelihood of getting cancer later in life, according to a new study.  Published online in the journal Cancer, the study reported that overweight adolescents were twice as likely to develop esophageal cancer, compared to teens of normal weight.  Additionally, it found that lower socioeconomic status and immigration from higher risk countries were significant determinants of gastric cancer.

Researchers measured body mass index (BMI), a measure of body fatness, of one million Israeli adolescent males who underwent a general health exam in 1967–2005. They used the country’s cancer registry to identify which of the participants later developed cancer. Participants were followed from 2.5 to almost 40 years, with an average follow-up of 18.8 years.

One of the most significant findings was that events up to the age of 17 years had a tremendous impact upon cancer development later in life–especially body weight and socioeconomic status. Teens who were overweight had more than double the risk of developing esophageal cancer, while those who were of low socioeconomic status had more than double the risk of developing gastric cancer. Education level was also a factor; particularly, those who had nine years or less of education had a 1.9-fold increased risk of developing gastric cancer. Lastly, Asian and former USSR immigrants had higher risks of developing gastric cancer. The study authors highlight that their work shows the danger of obesity begins at an early age—not just in adulthood.

A recent study showed another danger of being overweight in adolescence: an increased risk of heart disease later in life.  The study on teenage boys found that even if these overweight teenagers slimmed down as they aged, they were nearly seven times more likely than their slimmest peers to develop heart disease in their mid-30s. You can read more about the study here. It’s been found that a lack of education about obesity and weight loss may be a wide-spread problem among teens. Addressing the problem of adolescent obesity is so important because the effects can span the entire lifetime.

We spoke with Los Angeles weight loss surgeon, Dr. Mona Misra, about the new research. She said: “This is a great study with a very robust database, usually very difficult to obtain. What this study proves is that obesity is a chronic disease. Each day that a patient is obese, they are causing damage to their body.  Much of the damage being done is reversible, but this study shows that earlier intervention is significantly better for patients.”

Dr. Misra told us that prior studies of obese adults have demonstrated that by decreasing obesity, patients decrease the risk of developing other cancers, as well as hypertension, diabetes, etc, later in life.  However, as this study shows,  earlier intervention seems to be essential in preventing esophageal cancer–and possibly other cancers.” She concluded that “being obese as a teenager is not a cosmetic disease, as it can lead to a very significant risk of developing serious, life-threatening diseases down the road.”

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