We hear it all the time: “Lose weight for your health.” Unfortunately, the words tend to wash over your heads. How often have you joked, “My diet starts tomorrow”?
In January 2003, the Journal of the American Medical Association featured a study finding that obesity appears to lessen life expectancy, especially among young adults. The researchers compared Body-Mass Index (BMI) to longevity and found a correlation between premature death and higher BMIs.
For example, a 20-year-old white male of 5’10” who weighs 288 pounds and has a BMI of greater than 40 was estimated to lose 13 years of his life as a result of obesity.
Jamie McManus, M.D., F.A.A.F.P. and author of “Your Personal Guide to Wellness” notes that while this study referenced extreme levels of obesity, there are still millions of overweight people in developed countries with a life expectancy rate that is three to five years less than their healthy-weight counterparts. She also estimates that there are 600,000 obesity-related deaths each year in America alone.
How does obesity shorten our lifespan?
This is a complex issue, but there is a clear link between obesity and the development of cancer. An extensive study conducted by the American Cancer Institute involving 750,000 people showed that obesity significantly increased the risk of cancer developing in the breast, colon, ovaries, uterus, pancreas, kidneys and gallbladder.
Michael Thun, MD, vice-president of epidemiology and surveillance research for the American Cancer Society (ACS), who has authored or coauthored over 350 publications, books and book chapters, believes obesity plays a large role in the formation of many cancers. He says, “fat cells are a major source of estrogen after menopause.” . . . “That estrogen promotes the development of uterine and breast cancer.”
Fat centered around the abdomen may also increase insulin in the blood, which also increases the risk of cancer.
There is evidence that cancer rates in developed countries are increasing at 5 to 15 times faster than in still-developing countries. A major contributor to this alarming reality has proven to be diet. In populations where the diet consists mostly of fresh fruit and vegetables and whole grains, in contrast to the typical Western diet of fatty meats, refined flours, oils and sugars, the risk of cancer is much lower.
The interaction of diet and the development of cancer is an active field of research. Dr David Heber, M.D., Ph.D. and author of “What Color is Your Diet,” says “It appears that diet has its most significant effects after the cancer has already formed, acting to inhibit or stimulate the growth of that cancer”.
The typical Western diet leads to obesity and may actually encourage the growth of cancer cells.
What if you now realise your eating habits are all wrong? Or perhaps your children are eating badly?
It is never too late to improve the situation. Adopt a more healthy lifestyle and improve your eating habits, and you will see an improvement to your health and energy levels, as well as improving your chances of preventing cancer.
Don’t wait until you’re diagnosed with cancer. Pre-cancer is the best time to fight the disease. As an RN with much paediatric experience I have a personal hangup about the diet of modern children in our “civilised society”. This is worth an article on its own, but the information that follows also applies to children.
Even if you’re already in the cancer valley, it’s not too late to take these six simple steps in your fight against the dread disease:
1. Check your Body Mass Index (BMI). This will determine if your weight has become a health risk. All you need do is
- Measure your height and
- Check your weight
- Multiply your height by your height. (In other words, height squared.)
- Then divide your weight by this figure.
- If you calculated in pounds and inches, you need to then multiply your answer by 173. If you used metric measurements, you don’t need to do this.
The answer you have is your BMI. If you need illustrations to go with the instructions, see this site.
2. Match your diet to your body’s requirements. If you eat and drinkmake recipes leaner, and avoid buying food from fast food restaurants. Also learn how to snack with healthy choices.
3. Color your diet. Generally speaking the more colorful the fruit or vegetable, the better it is for you. Fill your plate with 5-9 healthy, cancer-fighting fruit and vegetables throughout the day.
4. Eat lean protein–if possible with every meal. Protein tells your brain that it’s full, and thus helps to control your hunger with less calories, while still maintaining a healthy muscle mass. Good choices of protein are soy shakes with fruit, the white meat of poultry, seafood such as shrimps, prawns, scallops and lobsters and ocean fish. Vegetarians may prefer soy based meat substitutes.
5. Rev up your metabolism with activity. Colleen Doyle, MS, RD, director of nutrition and physical activity for the American Cancer Society (ACS), says adults should do something active for at least 30 minutes every day. This doesn’t need to be gymnastics! Even a brisk walk will do the trick. Children should be active for at least an hour every day.
Because we are more likely to develop habits around things we enjoy, we should seek activities we enjoy doing. It is also helpful to build physical activity into our daily routines:
- Use the stairs instead of the lift
- Park the car in the parking bay furthest from the shops
- Don’t use the remote control to change TV channels
6. Get support in your new healthy eating plan. If you have a serious weight problem, it is likely you have developed habits concerning your daily food. People trying to lose weight do well to have the support of weight loss coaching, or even joining a weight-loss program such as Weigh-Less, or Weight Watchers.
Next to smoking, obesity has been identified as the most preventable major risk to developing cancer. Even small weight losses can make a difference. It’s never too late to start. Nor can you ever be too young or too old to be concerned about your health and do something about achieving a more healthy weight.
So before you move from this page, go back to #1 and measure your BMI. Then if you’re brave enough, post it below, together with your next step in fighting cancer.