Overweight Adolescents at Risk of Cancer | Children's Health Blog

Overweight Adolescents at Risk of Cancer

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As we approach middle-age and beyond, many of us are not as active as we used to be.  This often means an accumulation of extra pounds that we don’t always work very hard to get rid of, even though we are aware of the associated health risks such as a greater likelihood of developing certain forms of cancer.  But what about the more than 33 percent of adolescents who are already overweight?  We think of the young as resilient and safe to some extent from many of the diseases associated with aging.  However, a new study has found that being overweight in adolescence may raise the risk of having esophageal cancer later in life.

The research, which took place at Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva, Israel, discovered a link between carrying excess weight during the teenage years and facing twice the risk of developing esophageal cancer years later in comparison to peers who had maintained a normal weight as teens.1 “Adolescent’s Weight, Socioeconomic Status May Affect Cancer Later in Life.” Science Daily. 14 October 2013. Accessed 24 October 2013. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131014094258.htm   The subjects were approximately one million adolescent males living in Israel.  The study stretched from 1967 through 2005.  Each of the participants had an initial physical examination during which their body mass index (BMI) was recorded.  The volunteers were at an average age of 17 when the preliminary health testing was conducted.

The scientists followed up with the subjects for an average of 18.8 years, but the true range was anywhere from 2.5 years to the full 38 years of the study.  Using Israel’s national cancer registry, the researchers were able to determine exactly how many of these men developed cancer over time.

The results showed that those participants who had a high BMI during their teenage years had a 2.1-times greater likelihood of eventually being diagnosed with esophageal cancer than did those with a normal BMI.  Contributing factors to the development of esophageal cancer may include tobacco use, heavy alcohol consumption, or chronic acid reflux issues, depending on the type of esophageal cancer that is present.2 “Esophageal Cancer.” The Society of Thoracic Surgeons. 2013. Accessed 25 October 2013. http://www.sts.org/patient-information/esophageal-surgery/esophageal-cancer   The researchers speculated that the teens who were overweight or obese were more likely to have reflux, since the two conditions often go hand in hand.  And having reflux for a long period of time can do permanent damage, such as the formation of scar tissue or ulcers in the esophagus, or precancerous changes known as Barrett’s esophagus.3 “GERD Complications.” Mayo Clinic. 13 April 2012. Accessed 25 October 2013. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/gerd/DS00967/DSECTION=complications

Another finding from this study was the apparent negative impact on those subjects who came from a lower socioeconomic background when it came to cancer risk as well.  The adolescents who were raised in less affluent circumstances were found to have a 2.2-times greater chance of developing an intestinal form of gastric cancer as adults compared to their peers who had a more privileged youth.  Education levels matter too, as the teens who had completed fewer than 10 years of schooling had a 1.9-times greater risk of ending up with gastric cancer.

A study like this one is truly frightening since the problem of obesity in children’s health has increased tremendously through the past few decades.  In the United States, for example, the incidence of obesity in 12- to 19-year-olds has more than tripled in the past 30 years, skyrocketing from five percent in 1980 to 18 percent in 2010.  And as this latest study indicates, being overweight starting in childhood may prove to be even more dangerous than putting on extra pounds as we age.  It may very well set in motion bodily changes that can lead to serious diseases such as cancer or diabetes years later, possibly even in those who eventually lose their excess weight.  While socioeconomic status is considerably harder to change, we all have the power to make positive adjustments for the health of our children to increase chances of preventing cancer.  When you teach them to eat nutritiously, make time for active family pursuits, and act as a role model, you provide your kids with a healthy foundation that can truly make a difference throughout their entire lives.

 

References   [ + ]

1. “Adolescent’s Weight, Socioeconomic Status May Affect Cancer Later in Life.” Science Daily. 14 October 2013. Accessed 24 October 2013. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131014094258.htm
2. “Esophageal Cancer.” The Society of Thoracic Surgeons. 2013. Accessed 25 October 2013. http://www.sts.org/patient-information/esophageal-surgery/esophageal-cancer
3. “GERD Complications.” Mayo Clinic. 13 April 2012. Accessed 25 October 2013. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/gerd/DS00967/DSECTION=complications

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