World Cancer Report Webinar Series - Obesity and cancer

"Evidence linking obesity and cancer" and "Strategies to support changes in body size - individual and public health perspectives."

On our Obesity and Lifestyle resources page, there are several articles on this topic by our guest speakers.



Obesity is an established risk factor for cancer at 13 anatomical sites and given its growing prevalence worldwide, it is likely that obesity will contribute to a growing number of incident cancers in the coming decades. 

The link between obesity and cancer raises questions regarding translation of this knowledge into effective preventive measures. In this webinar we discuss how we might effectively tackle the obesity-cancer link. 

Firstly, we provide an overview of current understanding on the epidemiology and biology of the obesity-cancer relationship as well as outstanding research questions. 

Secondly, we discuss the challenges of ongoing and future interventions aimed at breaking the obesity-cancer link and explore what can be done at both the societal and individual level to tackle the obesity crisis and its impact on the cancer burden


Dr Marc Gunter. Head of the Section of Nutrition and Metabolism

International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), World Health Organization
Lyon, France


Dr Edward L. Giovannucci, Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, USA

“Evidence linking obesity and cancer.”

Excess body weight has been linked to a higher risk of 13 types of cancer. Around 8% of all cancers in the USA have been attributed to having a body mass index over 25 kg/m2 (overweight and obese). In non-smokers, approximately 20% of cancers are attributable to excess adiposity. In the USA, most obesity-related cancers have been increasing in those aged under 50, alongside increasing rates of obesity. Mechanisms that underlie this include increases in estrogens, insulin and related growth-promoting hormones, and inflammation. Improved diet, more physical activity, and maintaining a normal body weight can help reduce the burden of cancer worldwide.

Areas of expertise:

  • How nutritional, environmental, and lifestyle factors relate to various malignancies, especially those of the colorectum, other gastrointestinal cancers, and prostate cancer.
  • Etiological mechanisms underlying the relationship between nutritional factors and cancer

Professional posts:

  • Professor in the Departments of Nutrition and Epidemiology, and Instructor in Cancer Epidemiology and Nutritional Epidemiology of Cancer at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
  • Expert panel member for the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute of Cancer Research

Dr Annie S. Anderson, Professor of Public Health Nutrition

University of Dundee, Scotland

“Strategies to support changes in body size – individual and public health perspectives”

Actions at policy level potentially offer equitable approaches to assist the population to achieve desirable changes in weight related behaviours. There are many parallels with tobacco control that offer an evidence-based route for action related to reduced caloric consumption.  While we wait for governments to implement such policies, globally over 1.9 billion adults are overweight or living with obesity and increased cancer risk. Weight management support, beyond education and awareness raising is limited and deserves further investment both in practice and research.

 Areas of expertise: 

  • Nutrition and clinical dietetic practice
  • Theory-based, behaviourally-focused, dietary and obesity (population and individual) interventions aimed at chronic disease risk reduction, with a special interest in cancer prevention and survivorship

Professional posts:

  • Professor at the University of Dundee since 1996
  • Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (FRCP) since 2013 
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (FRSA) (2020)
  • International and national roles include advisor to WHO expert groups, Chair of the grant panel for the Population Health Services Research Committee Research Awards and the Health Research Board (Ireland)

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