Body fatness

Keep weight low within the healthy range

Our analysis of global research shows that there is strong evidence that weight gain, overweight and obesity increase the risk of 11 cancers, including bowel, breast (postmenopause), prostate (advanced cancer), pancreatic, endometrial, kidney, liver, gallbladder, oesophageal (adenocarcinoma), ovarian and stomach (cardia) cancers.

Maintaining a healthy weight – through a balanced diet and regular physical activity – helps reduce the risk of developing cancer. Our recommendation is to be as lean as possible within the normal range1 of body weight.

Public health goals

  • Median adult body mass index (BMI) to be between 21 and 23, depending on the normal range for different populations2
  • The proportion of the population that is overweight or obese to be no more than the current level, or preferably lower, in 10 years

Personal recommendations

  • Ensure that body weight through childhood and adolescent growth projects3 towards the lower end of the normal BMI range at age 21
  • Maintain body weight within the normal range from age 21
  • Avoid weight gain and increases in waist circumference throughout adulthood

1 'Normal range' refers to appropriate ranges issued by national governments or the World Health Organization

2 To minimise the proportion of the population outside the normal range

3 'Projects' in this context means following a pattern of growth (weight and height) throughout childhood that leads to adult BMI at the lower end of the normal range. Such patterns of growth are specified in International Obesity Task Force and WHO growth reference charts