Obesity, physical activity and cancer

WCRF International has joined forces with the International Association for the Study of Obesity (IASO) to hold a conference designed to foster scientific understanding and progress in the field of obesity, physical activity and cancer and to help shape the future scientific agenda in this exciting research area. This is the first in a series of four blog posts that will explore some of the key conference topics.

Michael Leitzmann, M.D., Dr.P.H., chairs the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine at the University of Regensburg, Germany. His main research interests include the relations of physical activity, body size, and diet to the development and prognosis of cancer.

The scale of the problem

The obesity epidemic is now considered one of the most serious threats to public health globally. It is currently expanding to pandemic proportions, and its effects pose unparalleled medical, economic, and social challenges. Dismally, adult obesity has become more prevalent worldwide than undernutrition. In parallel, recent survey data show that a considerable proportion of the adult population is insufficiently physically active. The figures are staggering: one in every three adults in the world is overweight and one in every nine is obese. Over 30 percent of adults are physically inactive.

The role of body weight & physical activity

There is emerging consensus that obesity and lack of physical activity play significant roles in carcinogenesis. Excess body weight and inadequate physical activity are related to increased risks of several types of malignancies, including colon cancer, postmenopausal breast cancer, and endometrial cancer. Adiposity and physical inactivity influence numerous physiologic systems and can modify cancer development and progression at many stages and through various biological pathways. Possible etiologic mechanisms include alterations in insulin resistance, insulin-like growth factors, steroid hormones, immune function, chronic inflammation, DNA repair, vitamin D status, and the gut microbiome.

Tackling the research challenge

Research in this field calls for cross-disciplinary, integrative methodologies that cover the entire cancer continuum from prevention through survival and extend from basic science and clinical studies to population designs. Indeed, scientists from a variety of disciplines have joined forces to achieve considerable methodological progress in research technologies such as microarrays, transgenic models, cancer biomarkers, and objective measures of physical exposures. Such tools hold great promise to continue to enhance our ability to characterize mechanisms of cancer development in both basic science and population research.

Sharing our knowledge

This conference will help us gather new insights into results from transgenic model systems and microarray studies disclosing the key cellular and molecular pathways underlying the effects of energy availability on tumourigenesis. Learn more about innovative molecular targets aimed at breaking the obesity and cancer connection. Find out about novel cancer biomarkers, and which weight loss or exercise interventions may be most effective among people with and without cancer. Familiarize yourself with the developmental origins of health and disease and how alterations in early life nutrition can modify the epigenome, thereby influencing subsequent cancer risk. Discover how motion sensors increase the accuracy of assessing free-living physical activity, which in future studies will be fundamental to delineate the relations of usual activity intensity and duration to cancer development and outcomes at the population level.

On behalf of the organising committee, if you’re attending the conference I hope you will enjoy the scientific programme and the exchange of ideas for the advancement of research on energy balance and cancer. And if you are unable to attend the conference, I hope you will be able to follow the presentations live via Twitter on #OPAC2013 or watch the speaker videos that will be available on the WCRF International website after the event.

2 Responses to “Obesity, physical activity and cancer”

  1. Andrew Renehan said:

    Apr 17, 13 at 9:37 am


    Wednesday morning – break from the conference. Sorry you are not here. Many interesting debates to-date attempting to link the epidmeiology and mechanisms together. There has alsobeen great discussions aboutr measurement (and my inference – measurement error), metholdogical biases, and the need for greater integration bteween epi and biology.

    I will expand later (excuse the pun!)

  2. Travis said:

    Jun 08, 13 at 8:28 pm

    Just doing some physical activity makes a world of difference. Our bodies were made to move, its not natural to be dormant. I think you nailed it talking about chronic inflammation from inactivity. Getting out there to move is hard on some folks who do suffer from those chronic conditions. Look forward to more of your blog posts.

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