Malamalama Aga o le Kanesa: “Those Samoan Bones!”

The holidays are here – the season of perpetual eating! Just as we’re starting to regret stuffing ourselves at Thanksgiving, here comes Christmas: a whole month of company parties, family fa’apotopotoga, goodies on the desks at work . . . and if you weren’t counting calories to begin with you’re probably thinking – forget it now!

So, it was ironic that I found in a stack of papers the September issue of ‘Nutrition Action’ delivered by my friend Dr. Don Vargo last year! And yes, the headline reads, “Cancer – How Extra Pounds Boost Your Risk”. Thanks Don.

It’s not the first time that we’ve heard this but recent scientific studies conducted around the world have concluded that being overweight or obese are risks for even more types of cancer, including breast, colon, esophagus, kidney and uterine cancers. The American Cancer Society has published its study findings linking those extra pounds to gallbladder, liver, pancreas, and advanced prostate cancers.

There is a clear and present danger lurking in the bodies of 66% of the people in our community – the estimated percentage of American Samoans categorized as being obese, very obese, and extremely obese according to the 2005 American Samoa Health Survey. Keep in mind that this figure excludes the high number of us considered ‘overweight’ which still presents a higher risk for cancer!

And so, as we rationalize those extra pounds away remember that ‘denial’ and excuses do not reduce the risk of developing cancer. The infamous local excuse for our weight is, ‘Well, Samoans have heavy bones!’ Of course, that’s it! ‘Those body index tables and weight recommendations are for palagi bodies!’ We’ve all heard it. We may have even said it. The reality is, although adjustments can be made to the BMI index for a higher density in bone mass, typical of many Polynesian groups, the facts remain as follows:

1: the connection between cancer and overweight and obesity is found in the
amount of fat that builds up around the muscles and organs OVER TIME

2: this means that a lifetime of eating habits – palusami, povi masina, pua’a, bacon, fast food, chips, candies, you name it – builds up in our bodies as
‘visceral fat’; this is fat that you can’t even see without a CT scan or MRI
but it’s there and it’s an active organ, releasing and receiving signals from other organs that create havoc with your hormones! When hormones are thrown off-balance they create problems like tumors and enlarged fat cells and production of extra hormones like estrogen, which is related to endometrial and breast cancers.

3: here are the numbers, they don’t lie and you can’t rationalize them away---

Risk of dying of colorectal cancer: 20 percent higher for men who are overweight (BMI between 25.0 and 29.9) than for men of normal weight

Risk of dying of colorectal cancer: 85 percent higher for men who are obese (BMI of 35 or higher) than men of normal weight

Men with a waist measurement of 43 inches had a 2.5 times greater risk of colon cancer than men with a waist of less than 35 inches.

Overweight post-menopausal women have a 30 percent higher chance of developing breast cancer, and a 50 percent chance if they’re obese.

Risk of dying from uterine cancer: 50 percent higher for women who are overweight (BMI between 25.0 to 29.9) than women of normal weight

For women, a BMI between 35.0 and 39.9 is the point at which their
chance of dying from breast, pancreatic, kidney or uterine cancer more than triples.

These are the stats. As more cancer research is done we learn more about what causes cancer, and can find ways to prevent it. The point here is to lose weight to reduce your risk of cancer. Eat right, be active, be realistic!

Are you at risk? Here’s a BMI sample calculation:

A six-foot tall adult weighing 200 pounds has a BMI of 27.0 – 28.0
Determination: ‘overweight’

A six-foot tall adult would have to weigh between 140 and 177 pounds to be considered ‘normal weight’.

Keep in mind that you should also pay attention to your waist measurement! If you don’t believe in the ‘palagi’ BMI then put a measuring tape around your waist, resting comfortably just above your hips. A measurement of 35 inches or greater for a woman, and 40 inches or greater for a man, is dangerous. You are at high risk for developing diabetes and heart disease, and now cancer.

You can calculate your BMI as follows:

Multiply your weight in pounds by 704.5 (Natl. Institute of Health)
Divide the result by height in inches
Divide that result by height in inches again

Or use the BMI Table at http://win.niddk.nih.gov/statistics/index.htm
With the cost of healthcare going up we can’t afford to be unhealthy!Take control of your health: be responsible and accountable. You can avoid costly health conditions by simply adding healthy foods to your diet, exercising every day, and losing weight. Start the new year right with a new attitude about food!

DISCLAIMER: This commentary or column does not necessarily reflect the views of Samoa News.


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