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News Article

Cancer risk related to energy density of diet as well as obesity

Consuming a high energy density increased obesity-related cancers by 10%

You can be a normal weight but if you are eating an unhealthy diet full of energy dense nutrient poor foods you can still be at risk of obesity-related cancers suggests a study out this week.

In the UK, obesity is the second largest preventable cause of cancer after smoking, accounting for 5% of all cancers. Researchers have also shown that consuming energy dense foods predisposes to obesity but not many studies have considered if that kind of diet could be increasing obesity-related cancer risk in normal weight people.

This study compared diets and subsequent cancer incidence in a group of 90,000 normal weight post-menopausal women in the long running Women's Health Initiative study. The researchers grouped women into five groups based on the energy density of their diet as reported by them at the start of the study. They found that those with the most energy dense diets were 10% more likely to get an obesity-related cancer during the follow up period than those with the least energy density diets.

The highest energy density group had a higher body mass index (28.9±6.0) compared with the lowest energy density group ( 26.3±4.9) and they also had higher waist circumferences. When the researchers grouped women by BMI, the increased cancer risk only applied to those who were normal weight at the start of the study.

Keeping body weight down appears not to completely mitigate the effects of an energy dense diet.

This study adds to recent evidence that energy density in itself a modest predisposing factor for cancer. Last year a study in postmenopausal women showed a link with breast cancer (2016) and an earlier study in Shanghai (2013) linked pancreatic cancer to energy density.

Association between Dietary Energy Density and Obesity-Associated Cancer: Results from the Women’s Health Initiative. Cynthia A. Thomson, Tracy E. Crane, David O. Garcia, Betsy C. Wertheim, Melanie Hingle, Linda Snetselaar, Mridul Datta,Thomas Rohan, Erin LeBlanc, Rowan T. Chlebowski, Lihong Qi. 2017Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, in press.


Article details

  • Author(s)
  • I.Hoskins
  • Date
  • 17 August 2017
  • Subject(s)
  • Nutrition & disease