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Overweight & Obesity: Leading Cancer Risk Factor

Originally written by Nikki Prosch, former SDSU Extension Health & Physical Activity Field Specialist.

In South Dakota and the U.S. cancer is the second leading cause of death among adults. Cancer can affect people of all ages and the vast classifications of cancers make it a complex disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a new Vital Signs factsheet based on data from 2005-2014 that links overweight and obesity to 13 different types of cancers. These 13 cancers make up 40% of all cancer diagnosis and include cancer of the liver, kidneys, thyroid, breast, pancreas, ovaries and others.

Weight & Cancer Risk

Many factors can increase your risk for cancer, including tobacco use, family history, age and exposure to chemicals or other substances. However, according to the CDC, avoiding tobacco and keeping a healthy weight are among the most important controllable behaviors people can do to lower their risk. People who are overweight or obese can have changes occur in their body that may lead to cancer, changes such as increased inflammation or increases in certain hormones.

Key Findings

  • Two in three US adults weigh more than recommended.
  • Overweight and obesity are associated with at least 13 types of cancer.
  • More than 630,000 people in the US are diagnosed with a cancer associated with overweight and obesity.

What can be done?


Communities can continue to work to provide access to safe and easy physical activity opportunities, make it easier to choose healthy food options where people live, support cancer control programs that focus on prevention, education, screening, quality of care and survivorship, and partner with local businesses to make healthy eating and physical activity the easy choice for community members.


Individually, everyone can eat a healthy diet, engage in the recommended amount of physical activity each week, lose weight (if above recommended) or maintain a healthy weight, and support community and state efforts around nutrition and physical activity prevention and promotion.

    Diagram showing 13 cancers linked to overweight and obesity. Contact Nikki Prosch at 605-882-5140 for more information.
    Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention