Another reason to address patients’ weight: Increased cancer risk

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Cancers related to overweight and obesity have increased in the U.S.

Doctors have another reason to talk to patients about their weight, as a new report finds cancers associated with being overweight now make up about 40% of cancers diagnosed in the U.S.

Overweight and obesity are associated with increased risk of 13 types of cancer and most of those cancers saw an increase from 2005 to 2014, according to a Vital Signs report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the same time, rates of non-obesity related cancers declined.

“A majority of American adults weigh more than recommended—and being overweight or obese puts people at higher risk for a number of cancers—so these findings are a cause for concern,” said CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D. in an announcement. “By getting to and keeping a healthy weight, we all can play a role in cancer prevention.”

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While there is a global obesity epidemic, most doctors have little training in obesity and nutrition. Given the health risk, some medical schools and health systems are doing more to teach medical students and doctors about nutrition, including cooking lessons. 

Students at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, for instance, are ditching their scrubs and donning a hairnet and apron to learn about nutrition firsthand in the kitchen. A hands-on culinary medicine course is being offered to second-year students to teach them about nutrition, since diet and exercise are a big part of preventive medicine, according to the school’s announcement.

The Spectrum Health Pediatrics Residency Program is also getting physicians into the kitchen, offering those who specialize in internal medicine and pediatrics a new elective in culinary medicine, according to Grand Rapid News. Spectrum is among a handful of programs nationwide to add such a program to its curriculum with the aim of improving a patient's health by blending nutrition and cooking knowledge with the science of medicine, the publication said.