Maintain A Healthy Weight

We could prevent about 673 cases of cancer in Alberta each year – if we support each other to get to, and stay at, a healthy weight.

What's the link to cancer?

Excess body weight and obesity play an important part in many types of cancer.

Experts in Alberta recently looked at how much cancer could be prevented by avoiding excess weight and obesity1. Here's what they found:

  • Colorectal Cancer:
    • About 12% of colorectal cancer in Alberta is linked to excess weight and obesity.
  • Endometrial Cancer:
    • Almost 1 in 3 cases of endometrial cancer in Alberta is linked to excess body weight.
  • Breast Cancer:
    • Keeping a healthy body weight over their lifetime reduces women’s chances of getting breast cancer. This is especially true for women who have been through menopause. About 8% of breast cancer in women aged 55 and older in Alberta is linked to excess body weight.
  • Kidney Cancer:
    • About 17% of kidney cancer in Alberta could be prevented by avoiding excess weight and obesity.
  • Esophageal Cancer:
    • About 31% of esophageal cancer in Alberta is linked to excess weight or obesity.
  • Pancreatic Cancer:
    • Weight management is one of the few proven strategies for reducing the risk of pancreatic cancer. It could prevent about 7% of pancreatic cancer cases in Alberta.
  • Gall Bladder Cancer:
    • Keeping a healthy weight could help prevent about 20% of gall bladder cancer cases in Alberta.
Overall, being overweight or obese is linked to about 4% of new cancer cases in Alberta.

How does a healthy body weight help reduce my risk of cancer?

Being overweight or obese may lead to different cancers in different ways. Here are some ways that scientists think excess body weight leads to cancer:

  • When there is excess body weight, cells don’t respond as well to insulin. To make up for this, the body makes more insulin. But higher levels of insulin also help cancer cells grow.
  • Fat tissue produces estrogen and estrogen promotes some cancers to grow. This includes breast cancer and endometrial cancer. Other hormones produced by fat tissue, (e.g. adipokines,) can have a similar effect on cell growth.
  • Being overweight has been linked to low levels of constant inflammation. Inflammation is known to increase cancer risk.
  • Almost 1 in 3 cases of esophageal cancer are linked to excess weight or obesity. This is likely because overweight people are more likely to have gastro-esophageal reflux (a backward flow of stomach contents into the esophagus.) Gastro-esophageal reflux is known to increase the risk for a major type of esophageal cancer. Obesity might also make the inflammation in the esophagus arising from the reflux even worse.

How much should I weigh?

In 2011, the Canadian Community Health Survey found that more than half of adults in Alberta were overweight or obese2. Body mass index (BMI) is often used to estimate whether people have excess fat tissue that is putting them at risk of cancer and other conditions. BMI takes into account a person’s height and weight.

The distance around the waist (waist circumference) is used to see whether too much fat is stored around the abdomen. Having extra abdominal fat increases the risk of some cancers such as:

  • colorectal cancer
  • breast cancer in younger women
  • endometrial cancer
  • esophageal cancer

Alberta Health Services recommends that people keep their waist circumference under the following limits:

  • Men less than 102 cm (40 inches)
  • Women less than 88 cm (35 inches)

Learn what your BMI is here

The BMI calculator below is for adults aged 18 and older. Here is how to interpret your BMI:

  • Underweight (BMI less than 18.5)
  • Healthy weight (BMI 18.5 to 24.9)
  • Overweight (BMI 25 to 29.9)
  • Overweight (BMI 25 to 29.9)
  • Healthy weight (BMI 18.5 to 24.9)
  • Obese (BMI 30 and over)

enter ft + in:

Calculate my BMI
Calculate my BMI

What else can healthy weight help me with

A healthy body weight can help prevent many other health problems including:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Type II diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Arthritis

Tips for getting to and keeping a healthy weight

To keep your risk of cancer as low as possible, try to avoid gaining excess weight throughout your life. If you are overweight or obese, losing even a little weight can make a big difference.

A healthy weight usually comes from a lifestyle that includes both healthy eating and physical activity. Here are some tips that can help you get to and stay at a healthy weight:

Helpful tips from Alberta Health:

  • See your weight as a teeter-totter (energy in, energy out).
  • Be patient when you start a new diet or exercise plan.
  • Enjoy healthy eating and physical activity as an integral part of your lifestyle.

Speak with your health care provider before planning to lose weight, particularly if you have health issues or problems with movement or mobility. MyHealth Alberta also has the following resources to help you manage your weight: