Hutch News

Obesity tops cancer as health concern for Puget Sounders

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance survey results rank obesity over cancer by a greater than three-to-one margin as today's biggest health issue

Jan. 3, 2012
Scott Ramsey

"We believe that at least one-third of all cancers could be prevented by adopting healthier lifestyles. We also know how hard it is to stop smoking, change our diet and get regular exercise," said the Public Health Sciences Division's Dr. Scott Ramsey, also director of SCCA's Cancer Prevention Clinic.

Photo by Susie Fitzhugh

When asked to choose which health issue is the biggest health concern in the U.S., despite increasing knowledge about cancer, Puget Sound-area adults overwhelmingly chose obesity over cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's and aging.

In a survey commissioned by Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and completed by 600 adults in King, Snohomish, Pierce, Kitsap, Thurston, Whatcom and Island counties, obesity topped cancer by a greater than three-to-one margin as the biggest health issue of concern today (52 percent versus 15 percent) and by almost three to one as the biggest anticipated health issue 10 years from now (38 percent versus 13 percent).

The choice of obesity may have been a reflection of their struggles with weight. In response to personal questions about weight gain and loss, 56 percent said they had gained 10 pounds in the past decade versus 39 percent who reported losing 10 pounds in the same time period.

"Obesity is linked to several important health problems, including diabetes, heart disease and joint problems, but I wonder how many people know that we have good evidence that it also puts people at risk for several cancers?" said the Public Health Sciences Division's Dr. Scott Ramsey, also director of SCCA's Cancer Prevention Clinic.

"We believe that at least one-third of all cancers could be prevented by adopting healthier lifestyles. We also know how hard it is to stop smoking, change our diet and get regular exercise," Ramsey said. "I think the survey shows that people recognize that changing health habits can help them and their families. As researchers and clinicians, our mission is to give them the tools to reach their goals."

The cancer connection

Studies by Hutchinson Center researchers consistently link diet and exercise to cancer prevention and reduction in incidence. Findings show:

  • Obesity raises the risk of breast cancer after menopause, the time of life when breast cancer most often occurs. Increased physical activity, even when begun later in life, reduces overall breast cancer risk by about 10 percent to 30 percent. And alcohol use is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer; women should limit intake to no more than one drink per day.
  • Obese men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer have more than two-and-a-half times the risk of dying from the disease as compared to men of normal weight at the time of diagnosis.
  • Obese men have an 80 percent higher risk of developing high-grade, aggressive prostate cancer. Studies have found a connection between greater consumption of dark green and cruciferous vegetables, especially broccoli and cauliflower, and decreased risk of aggressive prostate cancer.

For more information and research-based tips on exercise and physical activity, weight control, smoking cessation and more, see the Center's "Resources for Healthy Living" page.

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