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Study Examines Potential Link Between Cancer and Physical Inactivity


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A new report finds that more than 46,000 cancer cases annually in the United States could be prevented if Americans met the 5 hours per week of moderate-intensity activity recommended in the American Cancer Society’s physical activity guidelines. Recent findings published by Minihan et al in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise show that 3% of all cancer cases in U.S. adults aged 30 years and older from 2013 to 2016 were attributable to physical inactivity, and that the proportion was higher in women (average annual attributable cases = 32,089) than in men (n = 14,277).

For both men and women, states with the highest proportion of cancers attributable to physical inactivity were in the South, such as Kentucky, West Virginia, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Mississippi, whereas the lowest proportions were found in the Mountain region and northern states, such as Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Further Findings

This is the first study to estimate the number of cancer cases attributable to physical inactivity based on cancer sites (breast, endometrial, colon, stomach, kidney, esophageal, and bladder) by state. When focusing on specific cancer sites, data show that 16.9% of stomach cancers, 11.9% of endometrial cancers, 11.0% of kidney cancers, 9.3% of colon cancers, 8.1% of esophageal cancers, 6.5% of female breast cancers, and 3.9% of bladder cancers were associated with lack of exercise. By state, the proportion of cancer cases attributable to physical inactivity ranged from 2.3% in Utah to 3.7% in Kentucky.

While these data show the importance of physical activity, there are many barriers to recreational physical activity, which include but are not limited to: lack of time due to long working hours in low-wage jobs, the cost of gym memberships or personal equipment, lack of access to a safe environment in which to be active, and potential child care costs involved with recreational physical activity. Unfortunately, these barriers are more likely to affect historically marginalized populations, including the Black population and individuals with a limited income, underscoring the importance of enhancing health equity.

“These findings underscore the need to encourage physical activity as a means of cancer prevention and implement individual- and community-level interventions that address the various behavioral and socioeconomic barriers to recreational physical activity,” wrote the study authors. “Understanding and reducing the behavioral and socioeconomic barriers to physical activity is essential for optimizing intervention strategies targeting at-risk groups across the country.”

Disclosure: For full disclosures of the study authors, visit journals.lww.com/acsm-msse.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.
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