Monday, February 18, 2008


Obesity and cancer are linked

The word “obese” is an uncomfortable word to hear.

It often carries with it the connotation of being lazy, sloppy, or unhealthy. While these characterizations may be untrue, obesity has definitely been linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and a variety of orthopedic problems. A study published this week in the British medical journal, The Lancet, associates obesity with many common and rare malignancies.

Previously, there was a connection between obesity and cancers of the breast and colon. This more recent study demonstrates an association between excessive weight and tumors of the kidney, esophagus, thyroid, uterus and gall bladder.

Body mass index (BMI) was the measurement used to evaluate almost 300,000 patients used in this study. BMI is based on height and weight with a BMI above 30 considered obese. This is the equivalent of a five foot ten inch person weighing 210 pounds. A BMI of 25 (five foot ten inch person weighing 178 pounds) is considered overweight.

It is believed that half the adult population in all developed nations is overweight or obese. This study should serve as a call to action.

In the current presidential race, each candidate has touted the “best program” for a more effective health care system. By addressing the obesity problem, we will also be reducing the frequency and severity of many other health conditions.

Some basic ways to tackle this problem:

1. Keep it simple. Body weight is based on calories taken in and calories expended. If more calories are taken in than expended, weight gain occurs.

2. Moderation not deprivation. While some people don’t mind measuring, counting, and weighing what they eat, many don’t have the time or inclination. Make an effort to eat from a plate, not a container. Eat reasonable portions of protein, starch, and vegetable, then stop. No second portions.

3. Exercise. This is where you burn the calories. Even moderate exercise can burn significant calories. Poor health is not an excuse. Consult your physician; even those who are disabled can have an exercise regimen developed.

Despite this national debate over what has become an international problem, all health care is local and any effective national health policy will have to begin in our homes and communities.

Let’s get the conversation started about how we can change the health of our community. You can comment and discuss the matter with me on our Healthy Living blog at

Anthony G. Alessi, MD, is Chief of Neurology at The William W. Backus Hospital with a private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC in Norwich. You can email Alessi and all the Healthy Living columnists at

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