Skip to main content

by Alison McAleese, LiveLighter Victoria Campaign Manager and Dietitian


Weight and cancer infographic

Maintaining a healthy weight is an important way to reduce your risk of cancer, with obesity now linked to more cancer types than ever before. While a lot of people worry about their cancer risk, only about half of people know about the link between carrying extra weight and cancer.

A recent review of more than a thousand studies by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has found that being overweight or obese increases risk for at least 13 types of cancer.

It was previously known that carrying extra weight increased risk of five cancers

  • colorectal
  • uterine
  • kidney
  • breast cancer in postmenopausal women
  • adenocarcinoma of the oesophagus

The latest review, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, adds a further eight cancers to the list:

  • liver
  • gastric cardia (part of the stomach)
  • gallbladder
  • pancreas
  • thyroid; ovary
  • multiple myeloma (a blood cancer)
  • meningioma (a type of brain tumour).

Chairman of the working group, Dr Graham Colditz, told the New York Times that the 13 cancers together accounted for 42% of all new cancer diagnoses. He said only smoking came close as a preventable risk factor for cancer, underlining the importance of keeping off excess weight.

Eating well, moving more and being a healthy weight are all important for reducing the risk of a range of cancers and and other chronic diseases. Here's our top tips for a healthy lifestyle:

1. Limit sugary drinks

They contain sugar your body doesn't need and no beneficial nutrients. Did you know that a 600ml bottle of soft drink contains a whopping 16 teaspoons of sugar? The sugar is bad for our teeth and those unnecessary kilojoules can lead to weight gain and obesity. Click here to learn more about sugary drinks, and check out some ideas about healthier options.

2. Limit junk food

Pizzas, fried foods, chocolates, pies and pastries used to be seen as treats. They're now available everywhere, heavily marketed, and are sneaking into our daily lives. These foods are high in added sugar, fat and salt and don't have any of the good stuff that protects us from cancer, like fibre or fruit and vegies. Check out our calculator to see the effect of junk food over a week. You might be surprised! If you’re eating out, check out our tips on ordering healthier options.

3. Eat more vegetables instead

Most Australians eat only half the recommended amount of vegetables and fruit.Tucking into fruit and veg in all the colours of the rainbow will create a powerful mix of nutrients and keep the junk food cravings at bay. Learn about the benefits of fruit and veg and get tips about how to get more in your day over here.

4. Let's get physical!

Aiming for 30 minutes of physical activity each day is an important way for adults to improve their health and reduce their cancer risk. Keep it interesting with a mix of activities. Try a weights workout at the gym, a swim session in the pool or a yoga class. We've even got some free exercise videos that you can follow at home! Every little bit counts, and your exercise doesn't have to be a hard slog. Build it into your day by getting off the bus a few stops earlier and walking the rest of the way, or taking the stairs instead of the lift. Check out these tips on how to be more active from Aussie comedian Damian Callinan.

5. Lose the booze

Did you know that drinking alcohol directly causes a bunch of cancers, as well as increasing your risk of weight gain? That makes it a double whammy for cancer risk. If you do choose to drink, the Australian Guidelines recommend having no more than two a day. Cancer Council recommends having some alcohol free days each week too. You can read more about the benefits of cutting back and get some practical tips over here.

For more healthy lifestyle ideas to work into your day, check out our top tips.

Originally published 15th November 2016 in Cut Your Cancer Risk
Updated 25th August 2017

Related posts