High cancer burden due to overweight and obesity in most European countries

A new study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), WHO’s specialized cancer agency, shows that overweight and obesity are a major risk factor for cancer: responsible for an estimated 3.6% (481 000) of all new cancer cases globally in 2012. In most countries in the WHO European Region, the percentage of new cases that can be attributed to overweight and obesity is higher than this global rate.

Higher proportion of obesity-related cancers in women

The study highlights that, globally, the proportion of cancers related to obesity is higher in women than men: 5.3% and 1.9%, respectively.

In almost all countries in the European Region, the percentage of cancer cases among women attributable to excess body fat is higher than the global average (5.3%). In the Czech Republic, Malta and the Russian Federation, the proportions are are more than double the global figure.

Although the proportion of cancer due to overweight and obesity is lower among men, it is higher than the global average in most countries in the WHO European Region. Indeed, this proportion is at least double the global figure in 10 countries in the Region: the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Health benefits of reducing overweight and obesity

Reducing overweight and obesity at the population level could have significant health benefits, including reducing the burden of cancer. The IARC study shows that a quarter of all cancer cases attributable to overweight and obesity worldwide (118 000 cases) could have been prevented if populations had maintained their average body mass index (BMI) of 30 years previously.

Overweight and obesity risk factors for some cancers

A high BMI (25 kg/m² or more) is a known risk factor for cancer of the oesophagus, colon, rectum, kidney, pancreas, gallbladder, postmenopausal breast, ovary and endometrium, as well as for other noncommunicable diseases, notably cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.