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Take Action to Decrease Your Cancer Risk - Obesity and Its Role in Cancer Health Disparities

, by CRCHD staff

In support of this year’s National Minority Health Month “Prevention is Power: Taking Action for Health Equity!”, the NCI Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities (CRCHD) is highlighting the role of obesity in cancer health disparities among diverse population groups in the U.S. Prevention plays a critical role in reducing health disparities and a healthy lifestyle is one tactic for decreasing your cancer risk.

Obesity in health disparity populations

Health disparity population groups have the highest obesity rates in the nation. According to one report, nearly half of African Americans are obese (47.8%), followed by Hispanics (42.5%). Other reports show that income is a factor on obesity, as well. Obesity prevalence increases as income decreases among women (CDC) (no significant relationship has yet been observed between obesity and income among men).

Coupled with the fact that racial and ethnic groups experience unequal burdens of cancer in our society, the role of obesity on cancer health disparities is a significant one.

The research community’s response to obesity and cancer

There are a number of NCI-funded initiatives that explore the relationship between obesity and cancer among various population groups. NCI/CRCHD-funded researchers are investigating biological and  lifestyle factors and their relationship to cancer risk in various racial/ethnic communities, with a goal to better understand cancer health disparities and develop targeted intervention strategies that address the unique needs of health disparity population groups.

A handful of currently-funded CRCHD R01 and R21 grantees are investigating obesity and cancer risk in African Americans, Hispanic/Latinos, and Native Hawaiians in the U.S. For example, Marta Torroella-Kouri (R21), University of Miami School of Medicine, is studying whether adipose tissue in the breast is inflammatory and if it plays a role in breast cancer development. Lenora Loo at the University of Hawaii is trying to find out why there are high rates of both breast cancer and obesity in Native Hawaiian women. Monica Baskin (R01) at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (and working closely with the CRCHD-funded CNPC, the Deep South Network) is working with local communities to better understand obesity in African Americans in the region and to provide effective strategies for managing weight and living healthier lives. And through a CRCHD-funded PACHE partnership between New Mexico State University and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Native American tribes are being educated about cancer prevention and the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

Additionally, a couple of currently-funded CRCHD CURE scholars are also studying the nature of obesity in diverse populations. Elizabeth Prout Parks (K01) is trying to identify ways to prevent childhood obesity and observing environmental and situational factors that can influence the future development of cancer in children. F31 grantee, Taryn Cranford, is studying the regulation of macrophages in obesity-enhanced breast cancer.

Altogether, the findings from the research will not only help us to understand the roots of cancer health disparities and how lifestyle factors come into play, but they will also help future investigations and help advance cancer research – and the health equity of all Americans.

Obesity and cancer: Fast Facts

In recent years, the rate of obesity in children and adults has increased markedly. More than one-third of all U.S. adults and approximately 17 percent of children are obese, and the rate doesn’t appear to be slowing down. The NCI projects that if the existing trend in obesity continues, the future health and economic burden of obesity will lead to 500,000 additional cases of cancer in the U.S. by 2030.

An NCI study, using NCI Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) data, revealed that for some cancer types, new cases attributed to obesity were as high as 40 percent, and about 34,000 new cases of cancer in men (4 percent) and 50,500 in women (7 percent) were due to obesity in the United States in 2007. The American Cancer Society reports that one out of every three cancer deaths in the U.S. is linked to obesity, poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle.


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