Obese or overweight teenagers are twice as likely to get bowel cancer by the time they are 50, according to a new study released Tuesday. The study appeared in the scientific journal Gut.
Researchers found that men who were in their late teens and had a BMI ranging between 27.5 and 30 were two times more likely to develop bowel cancer. A research team from Harvard University looked at 240,000 Swedish men who had been conscripted into the military between 1969-1976.
At the time of the conscription, 81 percent of the men they studied had a normal BMI, 12 percent were underweight and 5 percent were moderately overweight. About 1.5 percent fell upper overweight range, and nearly 1 percent of the men studied were obese.
The men were monitored for bowel cancer up to 2010, according to Business-Standard. During that time, 885 men developed bowel cancer. Researchers found that men falling in the upper overweight category had a 2.08-fold higher risk of developing cancer and those in the obese category had a 2.38-fold higher risk, as reported by Mirror.
The researchers also discovered a link between a higher risk for the disease and a high level of an indicator of systematic inflammation. The study revealed that both factors were independent meaning that teen BMI could influence bowel cancer risk through mechanisms beyond inflammation.
Head of research interpretation at the World Cancer Research Fund Rachel Thompson told BBC that this finding is “interesting” because it provides them with an implication that “bowel cancer risk might be affected by our lifestyle habits throughout” life. She added that research into the link between obesity and cancer risk is “still in its infancy” in some ways.
The study’s authors stated that the study was purely observational, and women were not included. They added that further research is necessary to find the link between inflammation or obesity and bowel cancer. “Even with these limitations it is important to recognize the unique strengths of this study,” they said.
The study also said that bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in men worldwide. “Late adolescence marks the transition from childhood to adulthood and is a period of accelerated growth, especially among men,” the study says. Therefore, the period represents “a critical window for exposure susceptibility among men.”