Increased Obesity Rates Reported in Adults With a History of Cancer

Key Points

  • Annual increases in obesity prevalence were higher in cancer survivors than in the general population overall.
  • Increases in the prevalence of obesity were greatest in colorectal and breast cancer survivors and black patients.

In a population-based study reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Greenlee et al found that rates of obesity have increased more in patients with a history of cancer than in the general population. These rates were particularly high among survivors of colorectal and breast cancers and black patients.

Study Details

The study involved data from a nationally representative sample of 538,969 noninstitutionalized adults aged 18 to 85 years with or without a history of cancer who participated in annual cross-sectional National Health Interview Surveys from 1997 to 2014. Obesity was defined as body mass index ≥ 30 kg/m2 for non-Asians and ≥ 27.5 kg/m2 for Asians. Among 32,447 cancer survivors, the most common diagnoses were breast (n = 6,948), prostate (n = 3,984), and colorectal (n = 2,546) cancers.

Increasing Prevalence

From 1997 to 2014, the prevalence of obesity increased from 22.4% to 31.7% in cancer survivors and from 20.9% to 29.5% in adults without a history of cancer (P < .001 for trend in both groups). The estimated annual increase in prevalence was higher in women (2.9% vs 2.3%) and men (2.8% vs 2.4%) with a history of cancer than in those without a cancer history (P < .001 for interaction for all). The annual increases in obesity prevalence of 3.1% in female and 3.7% in male colorectal cancer survivors and 3.0% in breast cancer survivors were greater than in those without a history of cancer (all P < .001), whereas the 2.1% prevalence in prostate cancer survivors was lower (P < .001).

In subgroup analyses, populations with the highest rates of increasing obesity were colorectal cancer survivors, breast cancer survivors, and black patients (eg, annual increase of 3.85% vs 3.00% in white patients overall).

The investigators concluded: “From 1997 to 2014, obesity increased more rapidly among adult cancer survivors compared with the general population. Colorectal and breast cancer survivors and non-Hispanic blacks were identified as being at the highest risk for obesity.”

The study was supported by the National Cancer Institute.

Heather Greenlee, ND, PhD, of Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, is the corresponding author of the Journal of Clinical Oncology article.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.


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