16 October 2019

Why maintaining a healthy weight before 40 is important

Weight gain as we get older is quite common – but you may want to maintain a healthy weight if you're still younger than 40, researchers say.

We are constantly told that a healthy weight is crucial to reduce the risk of many chronic diseases, including cancer.

An international study, led by the University of Bergen in Norway, dug a bit deeper into this theory to determine the link between overweight, obesity and different types of cancer.

If you are or were overweight (BMI more than 25) or obese (BMI more than 30) before the age of 40, your risk of developing the following cancers increases as follows, according to the report:

  • 70% for endometrial cancer (cancers of the tissue lining in the uterus)
  • 58% for male renal-cell cancer
  • 29% for male colon cancer
  • 15% for all obesity-related cancers for both sexes. (According to the National Cancer Institute, cancers related to obesity include cancer of the liver, gallbladder, stomach, thyroid, kidneys, ovaries, colon and rectum.)

"Obesity is an established risk factor for several cancers. In this study, we have focused on the degree, timing and duration of overweight and obesity in relation to cancer risk," says Professor Tone Bjørge, at the Department of Global Public Health and Primary Care, University of Bergen.

What the study entailed

This study used adults with two or more measurements obtained at least three years apart and a possible previous cancer diagnosis. These individuals were followed for an average of 18 years. Obese participants (those with a BMI over 30) were found to have a higher increased risk for cancer.

"The risk increased by 64% for male participants and 48% for females," Bjørge says.

Is it too late to live healthier?

According to an article on our sister-website Parent24, the obesity problem in South Africa is on the rise, starting at a young age. When unhealthy eating habits are established during childhood, it’s often hard to break the cycle and get rid of the extra weight.

And even when there are no immediate threats such as high blood pressure or medical conditions, obesity itself should be considered a disease, said Dr Haitham Ahmed in a previous Health24 article.

But the sooner you start establishing healthy diet habits and start losing the excess weight, your health may improve. According to John Hopkins Medicine, it’s never too late to make healthy changes, regardless of your age and past.

Here are some tips:

  • See a registered dietitian for an appropriate, realistic eating plan for YOUR body and lifestyle. Fad diets will not work in the long term.
  • Our adult lives are often packed full with family and career responsibilities, but find a form of exercise that you can enjoy, commit to for at least three times a week and fit in even on a busy workday – these could be anything from walking to at-home workout videos.
  • Quit smoking if you are still smoking.
  • Follow a Mediterranean-style diet, which includes lean proteins, whole grains, plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and healthy plant-based fats.
  • Early detection of any cancer is key to recovery and successful treatment – do your at-home checks for breast cancer or prostate cancer, get that dodgy mole checked out and immediately talk to your doctor if you notice a difference in your bowel movements. Also determine your family’s medical history to know what your risks are. 

Image credit: iStock


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Cancer expert

CANSA’s purpose is to lead the fight against cancer in South Africa. Its mission is to be the preferred non-profit organisation that enables research, educates the public and provides support to all people affected by cancer. Questions are answered by CANSA’s Head of Health Professor Michael Herbst. For more information, visit

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