Dramatic rise in number of cancers caused by obesity

New study shows link between younger people living with overweight or obesity, and higher cancer risk.

7 July 2023

Scientists funded by our network charity in the Netherlands have discovered a number of additional cancers that are linked to being overweight or living with obesity than previously thought.

The new study followed 2.6 million people in Spain, of whom more than 225,000 developed cancer, and looked at their body mass index throughout life. In a paper published this month, the scientists revealed 3 important findings:

  • Age: the younger people were when they started living with overweight or obesity, the higher the risk of developing 18 cancers.
  • Duration: the longer people lived with overweight or obesity, the higher the risk of developing 18 cancers.
  • Degree: the greater the degree of overweight or obesity, the higher the risk of 18 cancers.

This new evidence on the risks of living with obesity or being overweight in early adulthood (ages 18-40) is particularly concerning, because global rates of obesity in this age group are rising. In England, 64% of adults are living with overweight or obesity.

How worried do I need to be?

More research is needed on these new links. Our 2018 Diet and Cancer Report, which was written by experts looking at all the published evidence (not just one study), said there was strong evidence that at least 12 cancers were linked to obesity. Recently, that has been increased to at least 13.

This new study provides further impetus to individuals to stay a healthy weight, and to governments to make it easier to do so.

We recognise that people can, with the right information and support, make healthy choices, especially around what we eat and how active we are.

However, those choices are a lot easier, and have a bigger impact for more people, when there are policies in place that make the healthy choice the easy one.

Living with obesity infographic

Support for you

If you’re worried about your weight and how it may be affecting your cancer risk, get a free health guide from us or sign up to Activ8, our FREE 8-week interactive email programme.

Encouragement for governments

Our recent policy report looked at how doctors and nurses could prescribe physical activity within healthcare to help patients lose weight.

The 18 cancers

  • corpus uteri (endometrial)
  • kidney
  • gallbladder and biliary tract
  • multiple myeloma
  • leukemia
  • breast (postmenopausal)
  • colorectal
  • liver
  • thyroid
  • brain and central nervous system
  • head and neck (among never smokers)
  • bladder (among never smokers)
  • ovary
  • non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • malignant melanoma of skin
  • prostate
  • pancreas
  • stomach

For scientists: Read the paper in Nature Communications