Press release

Call for trials to understand links between weight and cancer

Published on 25 November 2020

Healthcare systems are at risk of being overrun unless greater efforts are undertaken to research the links between obesity and cancer, a University of Dundee expert has said.

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Professor Annie Anderson

Annie Anderson, Professor of Public Health Nutrition at the University’s School of Medicine, says that large-scale trials are needed to demonstrate the clinical effectiveness of body fat reduction in reducing cancer rates.

She is calling on the global scientific community to come together to further study the links between the disease with changes in body fat and levels of physical activity.

“There is an urgent need to consider the long-term effects of weight loss and obesity on cancer risk reduction in a trial environment,” said Professor Anderson.

“There are gaps in our knowledge that need to be urgently addressed and only large-scale trials will help the scientific community to better understand these links. Failing to do so puts the healthcare systems of tomorrow at risk of being overrun.”

Worldwide, excess weight is associated with the development of at least 480,000 new cancer cases each year. Previous studies have indicated that improving body composition, decreasing body weight, and maintaining that reduced weight, will reduce the risk of developing cancers.

Despite this, however, there remain gaps in scientific knowledge of how changes in body fat and physical activity levels impact directly upon decreased cancer levels. In addition, understanding how planned weight loss in people who are obese impacts on cancer survivors remains a relatively unexplored area.

In research published in the British Journal of Cancer, Professor Anderson and colleagues show how robust, large-scale intervention trials are urgently required to improve knowledge of these links to better inform the scientific community.

Professor Anderson said that such trials would also greatly benefit public health guidance, which she believes has not effectively communicated the links between weight and cancer.

“The UK has a sugar tax as a deterrent to consuming unhealthy foods, and the links between sugar and diabetes are commonly known,” she added.

“Some people seem willing to take a calculated gamble with diabetes because it can be managed, but cancer is something very different. Reducing the risk of being diagnosed with cancer is important to all of us and understanding how changing body composition by decreasing excess calorie intake, building muscle and managing weight is a key research priority.”


Jonathan Watson

Senior Press Officer

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Story category Research