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Obesity and Cancer

A team of European researchers has announced that cancers linked directly to obesity are on the rise in both Europe and America.  Combine that with decreasing rates of cancer from smoking, and suddenly, obesity could become the leading cause of cancer in the West.  (Article)

Scientists aren’t completely sure why obesity causes cancer, but many attribute it to an increase in hormone production that often accompanies weight gain.   Between 2002 and 2008, cancer cases directly attributable to cancer rose sharply, from around 70,000 to 124,000.  We can only assume that since America is generally more obese than most of Europe, the number would be significantly higher here.

There are a lot of good reasons not to become obese, or to lose weight if you’re already over the limit.   I don’t know very much about European TV and advertising, but I do know that Americans are obsessed with a lot of very bad food.   I wonder how much more we’ll learn over the next few decades as we begin to see the results of our over-processed,  over-salted, sugar heavy diet in the long term.  I suspect the ramifications will be incredibly widespread, not just in physical health, but mental as well.

This is partly a political problem.  It’s a lot cheaper to make food that’s bad for you.  The American government has shown little interest in recent years in any kind of legislation that would encourage the availability of low cost nutritious food.  The farm subsidy system in America is a mess.  The Health Department is arguably more interested in the health of restaurant and grocery supply companies than that of the general public.  Many of the health regulations today mandate the use of lots and lots of one use “sterile” handling items which are not required in most of the rest of the world, where curiously, people aren’t dying in waves from food poisoning.

The problem is partly cultural.  Even with the popularity of the Food Network and online cooking resources, very few people cook for themselves anymore, and when they do, it’s often prepackaged, pre-made items.  It’s expensive to eat at healthy restaurants, and cheap and fast to drive through Burger King.   Nine out of ten food ads on TV are for snacks, sugary drinks, or fast and easy microwavable entrees.

The fact of the matter is that our brains and bodies are part of the same system.  I believe that over the next few decades, it will become more and more apparent that physical and mental health and happiness are all tied together, and that eating well is an integral part of feeling good, both physically and emotionally.

I know this entry is a little off the beaten path for me, but the purpose of this blog is to help provide information and convincing arguments for living a healthy, happy life based on science, naturalism, and sound logic.  The more I’ve been thinking about it since reading about the cancer-obesity link, the more I’ve realized that this is part of a rational life.   I gave up sweetened drinks several years ago, as well as fast food, and the difference in my general health as well as mental attitude is significant.  One anecdote doesn’t prove a point, but I think we would be hard pressed to think of a reason why someone shouldn’t improve their diet as a part of any effort to make their life a happier place.



4 thoughts on “Obesity and Cancer

  1. I wonder about psychological factors.

    I was obese, and took an early retirement.

    Over the next 3 years I lost ~1/2 # a week (~80 #). Without the stress, the fat just went away.

    Posted by khan | September 24, 2009, 6:27 pm
  2. I’m not sure about obesity causing cancer. I suspect all the crap you ate that caused the obesity is probably what is causing the cancer.

    Posted by Athol Kay | September 24, 2009, 6:51 pm
  3. Uh. Kay? That makes little sense. Cancer is a cellular problem; the causal agent, therefore, *also* needs to be cellular. Obesity makes sense as at least a tertiary causal agent because, if nothing else, an obese person has quite a few more cells that can ‘malfunction’, as it were, and a considerably less effective immune system (as lymph nodes become less and less consolidated).

    All of the crap that you eat is simply metabolized. Given that this does not directly affect a persons’s cells, it’s rather doubtful that a person might get cancer by digesting anything.

    Posted by Kevin R Brown | September 26, 2009, 1:07 am
  4. First, let me say that I think it’s great to stray from the beaten path once in a while. I’ve been thinking a lot about that myself, and I’d like to think it’s OK to deviate. You have a broad array of interests, and so do your readers!

    One thing that troubles me a lot is that in the U.S., obesity is highly correlated with poverty. As you say, it’s cheap to drive thru Burger King, although the poorest are spending a disproportionate amount of their disposable income on fast food. Cheap, unhealthy food has become a reward, and a comfort in American culture.

    When I’ve needed to cut back on food expenses, my go-to food is lentils. Using meat as more of an accent or garnish while featuring healthier vegetables is far healthier and less expensive. Also, this summer I’ve had a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share for the first time, and I love it. I come home and google kohlrabi and garlic scapes and Napa cabbage so I can figure out how to prepare these vegetables I have never even tried. It’s been a great adventure.

    Posted by Susan Walsh | September 28, 2009, 9:11 pm

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