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obese man in waiting areaThe numbers are not encouraging.

According to the latest numbers from Gallup and Healthways, the US obesity rate has climbed once again, nearing 28%. That’s more than one in four of us. Not just overweight but obese. Here in Texas, the rate is even higher: 30%.

Meanwhile, cancer specialists speaking at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago cautioned that obesity may overtake smoking as the leading cause of cancer within the decade. According to Harvard oncology specialist Jennifer Ligibel, the relationship between the two conditions is “clear.”

“It’s the case with breast cancer, a prostate cancer, cancer of the colon and all the gynaecological cancers,” she said. She highlighted research showing that obesity increased the risk of womb cancer sixfold.

Experts said obesity was driving cancer because it results in hormones imbalances that can fuel tumour growth.

Cancer and obesity are also both inflammatory conditions – like periodontal disease, which has also been linked to both.

The obesity link, in particular, has been highlighted by recent studies, such as the new research review just published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology. The studies that met the authors’ criteria included more than 42,000 subjects and all together showed that those

who became overweight and obese presented higher risk to develop new cases of periodontitis…compared with counterparts who stayed in normal weight.

A review in the Journal of Periodontology similarly found “that overweight, obesity, weight gain, and increased waist circumference may be risk factors for development of periodontitis or worsening of periodontal measures.”

Research published earlier this year in the same journal found more pronounced markers of periodontitis (advanced gum disease) among those who were overweight and less physically fit.

So are exercise and more healthful eating the ticket? Perhaps not entirely. For one of the other findings in the Gallup/Healthways report was that social and economic factors may be fueling the rise in obesity rates, as well. Environmental factors also play a role. For instance, a new study in Environmental Health Perspectives showed how BPA may be contributing to the obesity crisis, as well:

The study is the first to find that people’s bodies metabolize bisphenol-A (BPA) — a chemical found in most people and used in polycarbonate plastic, food cans and paper receipts — into something that impacts our cells and may make us fat.

The research, from Health Canada, challenges an untested assumption that our liver metabolizes BPA into a form that doesn’t impact our health.

“This shows we can’t just say things like ‘because it’s a metabolite, it means it’s not active’,” said Laura Vandenberg, an assistant professor of environmental health at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who was not involved in the study. “You have to do a study.”

Like most modern chronic health problems, obesity is multifactoral. But eating better and getting more active do make a great start. Ramped up oral hygiene and nutritional therapy can offer big help, as well, in putting the brakes on chronic inflammation.

Image by Tony Alter

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