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Expand chart
Data: American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

Millennials are facing a much higher risk of obesity-related cancers than baby boomers did at their age, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health Monday.

Why it matters: The steepest increases for obesity-related cancers were in the youngest age group (aged 25–34 years) and are a warning that steps need to be taken by this generation to get rid of excess body weight. "The change in cancer trends among young adults is often considered as a bellwether for future disease burden," study author Hyuna Sung tells Axios.

Background: While scientists are not sure of the exact mechanism, there is "quite convincing evidence" that excess body weight increases the risks of some cancers, says Sung, principal scientist of surveillance research at the American Cancer Society (ACS).

  • Some theories behind this correlation are that excess body weight can affect inflammation and hormones, or that it's impacting the gut's microbiome.

What they did: Using a population-based cancer registry, researchers from ACS and the National Cancer Institute examined invasive cancers in people aged 25–84 diagnosed between 1995–2014 for 30 cancers, including 12 obesity-related ones.

What they found: Multiple obesity-related cancers increased significantly faster among the young adults (25–49 years) compared to older adults (50–84 years). "Indeed, the younger, the faster," Sung says.

  • 6 of the 12 obesity-related cancers — colorectal, uterine corpus (endometrial), gallbladder, kidney, multiple myeloma and pancreatic — showed increased incidences in young adults and in successively younger birth groups in a stepwise manner.
  • The risk of colorectal, uterine corpus, pancreatic and gallbladder cancers in millennials is about double the rate baby boomers had at the same age, per the report.
  • But, for almost all (16 out of 18) of the non-obesity related cancers (exception was gastric non-cardia cancer and leukemia), cancers dropped or stabilized in successively younger generations — meaning the absolute risk of all cancers is lower for the youngest age groups. This included cancers related to HIV infections or smoking.

Why? Sung says while there are multiple factors involved, the obesity epidemic is happening because...

  • "[The] food environment we are living in promotes over-consumption of energy-dense, high-sugar/nutrient-poor foods that are pervasive and much more affordable and available to all."
  • "Furthermore, physical activity has been 'engineered' out of [our] lifestyle due to energy saving technologies, such as via the use of cars instead of bicycles."

What's next: Three main steps need to be taken, Sung says.

  1. People need to adopt healthy lifestyles at younger ages. "Early lifetime exposure matters," she says.
  2. Physicians need to increase obesity screening and counseling. "Less than half of primary care physicians regularly assess for body mass index despite national screening recommendation," Sung says.
  3. Policymakers should broadly implement regulatory interventions like "restrictions on advertising calorie-dense food and drinks, taxes on sugary drinks, [and] urban planning ... to promote physical activity" through more sidewalks and bike lanes, Sung adds.

Go deeper:

Editor’s note: The chart was corrected to show year-on-year percent increase from 1995 to 2014 (not percent increase over the time period).

Go deeper

Private colleges across America can't pay their bills

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Behind the scenes in colleges across the U.S., institutions are having trouble paying their bills.

Why it matters: There’s a reckoning coming in higher education — especially for smaller, private liberal arts schools — that’s been years in the making. In obvious ways, COVID accelerated some of the trends, but college finances have been hurting for a while.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
46 mins ago - Health

Special report: America's biggest hospitals vs. their patients

Expand chart
Data: JHU; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

More than a quarter of the 100 U.S. hospitals with the highest revenue sued patients over unpaid medical bills between 2018 and mid-2020, according to new research by Johns Hopkins University provided exclusively to Axios.

Why it matters: The report suggests that, rather than being an anomaly, patient lawsuits are relatively common across the country and among the largest providers.

46 mins ago - Technology
Column / Tech Agenda

The next big social network: Nextdoor

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Nextdoor, the neighborhood social network, has seen explosive growth over the past two years as homebound users became more fixated on what was happening on a hyper-local level.

Why it matters: Such rapid growth comes with challenges. What was once a niche social network is now so popular that it's grappling with some of the same thorny problems plaguing Facebook and Twitter, such as content moderation.