Study finds obesity more prevalent in those with history of cancer

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New research from Columbia University shows that patients who’ve suffered from cancer may have a harder time warding off extra pounds and it may be even more difficult for people of color.

The study, completed at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York, found that obesity was more prevalent in patients with a history of cancer, particularly in those who survived colorectal and breast cancers.

The study was published online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Researchers studied data from a nationally representative sample of more than 500,000 non-institutionalized adults aged 18 to 85 years. Some had cancer and some didn’t, but all participated in the National Health Interview Survey every year from 1997 to 2014.

Findings revealed the population with the highest rates of increasing obesity was individuals with colorectal cancer followed by those with breast cancer. Black survivors of both cancers were disproportionately affected.

From 1997 to 2014, the prevalence of obesity increased from 22 percent to 32 percent in cancer survivors, and from 21 percent to 29 percent in patients without a history of cancer. Additionally, rates of obesity grew more rapidly in women than in male counterparts, regardless of whether or not they had cancer.

"Our study identified characteristics of cancer survivors at the highest risk of obesity, which are important patient populations in which oncology care providers should focus their efforts," said Heather Greenlee, ND, PhD, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia's Mailman School, in a statement. "While our findings can be partially explained by the growing population of patients with breast and colorectal cancer–the two cancers most closely linked to obesity–we identified additional populations of cancer survivors at risk of obesity not as well understood and which require further study.”

The study was funded by grants from the National Cancer Institute.