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Obese Women Face Greater Cancer Risk

Times of India
28 September 2009
By Kounteya Sinha
New Delhi, India

Two separate medical findings simultaneously released on Friday have sounded the tocsin for Indian women.

In the first study, nearly six crore women in India above the age of 15 have been found to be overweight, bordering on obesity. Shockingly, a separate study found obesity to be the leading cause of cancer these days, specially in women, with about one in 12 new cases of the disease due to excess weight. European researchers say obesity now accounts for up to 8% of cancers on the continent.

The first study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, examined how many women in the reproductive age group in three south Asian countries – India, Nepal and Bangladesh – have become overweight/obese in a decade–long period between 1996–2006.

The prevalence of obesity in this age group of women increased by almost 6% in Bangladesh, 8.5% in Nepal and 4% in India. Though India reported the lowest percentage increase, in absolute numbers of obese women, it is far higher than both Bangladesh and Nepal.

After researching national data from eight demographic and health surveys that studied 19,211 women in Bangladesh, 19,354 in Nepal and 1.6 lakh women in India, experts found that the prevalence of overweight–obesity increased from 2.7% to 8.9% in Bangladesh, 1.6% to 10.1% in Nepal and 10.6% to 14.8% in India.

These increases were observed in both rural and urban areas and were greater in rural areas.

Professor Anoop Misra, director of Diabetes and Metabolic Diseases at Fortis Hospital, said the prevalence of overweight women had increased substantially in Bangladesh, Nepal, and India.India has around 39.42 crore women above age of 15, which means around 5.8 crore of these women are overweight and obese. This goes to show that women in India are at higher risk of developing diabetes and heart disease, primarily due to sedentary lifestyle.

Meanwhile, another study has clearly said shedding some extra pounds could greatly protect women against cancer. Scientists say being overweight accounts for up to 14% of cancer deaths in men and 20% of cancer deaths in women.

Some 20% to 30% of common cancers such as colon, postmenopausal breast, uterine and esophageal may be related to being overweight and to a lack of physical activity.

Though scientists don’t know why obesity increases cancer risk, they think it may be linked to hormones. Fat people produce more hormones, such as estrogen, that help tumours thrive.

The World Cancer Research Fund found a link to obesity in six types of cancers. Women who were overweight were four times more likely to develop cancer of the uterine lining, while obesity boosts the risk by six–fold. Obese women also are at greater risk of breast and colon cancer.

According to Dr Misra, an earlier study just a few months ago found two in three women in urban India and one in three women in rural India above the age of 35 overweight. And almost every second woman in urban India and every third woman in rural India were found to have high blood pressure.

Grim Prognosis
    Obese women face greater cancer risk
  • Nearly 6 crore women in India above 15 are obese.
  • 1 in 12 women develops cancer because they are overweight, obesity accounts for 20% of cancer deaths in women.
  • Fat women produce more hormones which help cancers thrive, say experts.
  • 20–30% of cancers of colon, breast (post–menopausal), uterus and oesophagus due to being overweight, lacking physical activity.
  • Also at higher risk of diabetes and heart diseases due to sedentary lifestyle.
  • Spurt in obesity among women 1996–2006
    • India 4%
    • Bangladesh 5%
    • Nepal 8.4%


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