Thursday, April 1, 2010

Body mass index and cancer deaths in various US states

Ancel Keys is often heavily criticized for allegedly originating the fat phobia that we see today in the US and other countries, perhaps with good reason. But he has also made many important contributions to the health sciences.

One of them was the index known as body mass index (BMI), calculated based on a person's weight and height. Unlike other measures, such as body fat percentage and body fat mass, BMI is very easy to calculate; divide your weight (kg) by your height (m) squared.

BMI is strongly correlated with body fat percentage, and body fat mass. Very muscular people are exceptions; they may have a high BMI and yet reduced body fat.

Excessive body fat mass leads to chronic inflammation, due in part to elevated circulating levels of pro-inflammatory hormones such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha (cute name eh?).

Chronic inflammation, in turn, leads to increased incidence of cancer.

Thus it should be no surprise that having a BMI above 30 (obesity level) is strongly correlated with cancer death rates; see graph below (click on it to enlarge), from: Florida, 2009 (full reference at the end of this post).

The correlation for the graph above is a high 0.702, calculated as the square-root of the R-squared value shown at the bottom-right. The R-squared is the percentage of explained variance for cancer deaths, meaning that nearly 50 percent of the cancer deaths are "explained", or caused, by the BMI percentages.

One more reason to bring body fat down to healthy levels.

How do you do that? A good way to start is to replace refined carbohydrates and sugars with natural sources of protein and fat in your diet; eggs included, no need to worry about dietary cholesterol.


Florida, R. (2009). The geography of obesity. Creative Class, Nov. 25.