Young Adult Obesity Has Quintupled. Will a 'Wave of Cancer' Follow?

Maurie Markman, MD


May 09, 2022

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

This is Maurie Markman from Cancer Treatment Centers of America. I would like to briefly discuss a very interesting, quite provocative report that recently appeared in JAMA in November 2021. The article is "Trends in Obesity Prevalence Among Adults Aged 18 Through 25 Years, 1976-2018."

As the authors point out, obesity is recognized to be a major problem in this country, and we're obviously seeing an — I don't think it's inappropriate to use this term — epidemic of obesity. These investigators wanted to focus on a particular age group: the transition from youth/adolescence at age 18 to adulthood at age 25.

The comment that is made, which I think is very appropriate, is that we're now looking at patterns that are going to be established for the rest of one's life. So in looking at that specific age group, as well as the impact of obesity over the next 30-40 years, this is the challenge in front of us and what these investigators were looking at.

The data are from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between the years 1976 and 2018. The bottom line is the mean body mass index (BMI) went from 23.1 in 1976 to 27.7 in 2018.

More to the point, however, between 1976 and 1980, which is the baseline period, prevalence of obesity in this age group — again, 18-25 years — was 6.2%. In 2017-2018, the prevalence of obesity was 32.7%. Let me say that again: 6.2% to 32.7%. Looked at conversely, the percentage of individuals who had normal weight in the first time period was 68.7%, which decreased to 37.5% in the later period.

This paper really emphasizes, as clearly as one can, the enormous problem we have in front of us. Obviously obesity affects the heart, but we're focusing in this commentary on cancer. We know that the lifetime risk for a number of cancers is very much influenced by weight and obesity.

One can only anticipate a wave of these cancers if we can't attack this problem. We have to figure out a way of dealing with this or we are just going to have cancers that could have been prevented because of this problem of obesity.

I encourage you to read this article. It is chilling, but it is about something that all physicians, all healthcare providers in this country, and all politicians who are concerned about the cost of healthcare in this country have to be aware of, and we have to figure out a way to tackle it.

Thank you for your attention.

Maurie Markman, MD, is president of medicine and science at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia. He has more than 20 years of experience in cancer treatment and gynecologic oncology research.

Follow Medscape on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.