- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 3, 2002

Legislation is currently pending in Congress that would provide $256 million for new programs to fight obesity.
The National Academy of Sciences recently issued a report urging Americans to exercise daily to maintain a healthy weight.
At a recent meeting, the surgeon general told grocery manufacturers, "It is imperative that we collectively establish and implement effective solutions to the rising rates of obesity."
These three items are part of a barrage of attempts to stall the epidemic of obesity, now estimated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to kill 300,000 Americans each year. Compounding the problem, obesity also promotes heart failure, high blood pressure and diabetes, each with its own toll. Moreover, the epidemic is worldwide. An estimated billion people around the globe carry a dangerous amount of weight. Children too. Twice as many 6- to 11-year-olds than two decades ago and 3 times as many teens are overweight or obese.
Sadly, though, all the grim news about the consequences of excess avoirdupois has not stemmed the tide. As much as 60 percent of our friends, relatives and neighbors are at an unhealthy weight, and more and more of them are getting fat or fatter than they have been.
But there is a glimmer of light, ironically, in some news about cancer. A report published in the British medical journal the Lancet confirmed that obesity increases the risk of cancer in the esophagus, colon, breast, endometrium and kidney. The report came on the heels of a survey showing a substantial 86 percent of the population worry about getting cancer. In fact, the survey by Harris Interactive for the American Institute for Cancer Research showed a vast majority of Americans worry deeply about obesity as well as cancer. But most think of the diseases separately. Asked to name major risk factors for developing cancer, only 6 percent mentioned overweight and obesity. They were more likely to mention exposure to certain chemicals (22 percent), high-fat diets (18 percent), exposure to the sun (18 percent), family history (11 percent) and alcohol (7 percent).
It is logical to conclude that, since few people think about excess weight as a cancer risk, the challenge to the public health community is to send a strong message about that connection. There is a powerful story to tell with much to support it. For example, research has demonstrated that laboratory animals fed reduced calories almost uniformly restricted tumor growth.
Referring to other research, George Bray, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Louisiana, said at a recent conference, "Most of us look at our guts and our hips and our love handles and imagine that those extra pounds just sit there quietly, storing energy, until we 'burn' them." Not so. "When fat cells multiply, there is an increased risk of random mutation leading to the formation of cancer cells," he explained. "In addition, as fat cells become bigger, they release into the bloodstream chemicals, such as insulin and hormones like estrogen, high levels of which have been linked to cancer development. Conversely, when people lose weight, cell division and chemical secretion are reduced and so, too, the risk of cancer, especially of the breast, endometrium and colon."
Reaching people with a message to eat less is tough. No doubt about it. Fortunately, the public health community has a new tool. It is a Web site: www.Cancer.com, which is especially well designed for easy navigation and opens doors to the most accurate, up-to-date information about all kinds of cancer. It covers prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment.
"If you type the word cancer into a search engine, you will get between 11 million and 17 million possible links," according to Gary Ready, president, Ortho Biotech Products L.P., which hosts Cancer.com. This new site connects to 200 of the best web sources, operated by leading cancer advocacy organizations, professional societies, treatment institutions and government agencies, selected by advisers who are leading cancer specialists and consumer advocates. In making their choices, the advisers not only reviewed major Web sites about cancer but also were guided by results of an opinion poll on how Americans use the Internet for cancer facts and counseling.
Research showed "patients want to know about the type of cancer they have, what treatment is recommended, what side effects to expect of that treatment, whether they will be nauseated or in pain, and they want to know about living with cancer," said Mr. Ready. Doctors, consequently, will be informed about the Web site and encouraged to refer patients to it, he said.
Prevention is an important part of Cancer.com, according to Mr. Ready, who cited American Cancer Society statistics "that if people would really focus on prevention and detection, we could avoid about 50 percent of the cancer we have today." That's where the obesity/cancer connection comes in. One can hope as public health educators move that connection to the forefront of public attention, Web surfers in turn will visit Cancer.com to learn how to prevent and conquer the big C and the big O at the same time.

Goody L. Solomon is executive editor of Food Nutrition Health News Service.

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