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Healthy body weight

What is a "healthy body weight"?

Your "healthy body weight" is within a weight range (based on your sex, age, and height) that is linked to the lowest risks of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Many factors affect your body weight, such as your ancestry, culture, your job, your health, where you live, your income and access to food and physical activities, and the choices you make (such as foods and exercise). This means that your healthy body weight may be different than your friend's, even if she is your age and height.

Is there a link between body weight and breast cancer risk?

Since breast cancer risk is hormone related, the factors that affect it differ before and after a woman experiences menopause. Menopause is the process through which women stop menstruating. The process, which may take a few months, usually occurs during a woman's early 50's. The most recent and complete review of the research concerning body weight and breast cancer risk concluded that:

Before menopause:

Higher levels of body fat probably decrease breast cancer risk- Scientists do not know why higher levels of body fat may protect against breast cancer before menopause. This does not mean that premenopausal women should increase their body weight to reduce their risk-breast cancer is far more likely to occur after menopause, and there is strong evidence that higher body weight increases breast cancer risk after menopause. It makes sense for women to maintain healthy body weights before and after menopause.

After menopause:

Higher levels of body fat are strongly linked to higher breast cancer risk-Research on overall body fat and breast cancer risk reports a link between higher body weight and higher breast cancer risk after menopause. This is not true before menopause.

Higher levels of abdominal fat probably increase breast cancer risk- Research shows that there is likely a link between higher levels of fat around the abdomen (stomach, belly) and increased breast cancer risk after menopause.

Weight gain as an adult probably increases breast cancer risk. There is likely a link between higher amounts of weight gained during adulthood and increased breast cancer risk after menopause. Since weight gained as an adult is typically fat, not muscle, adult weight gain increases total body fat. As already mentioned, higher total body fat is strongly linked to increased breast cancer risk after menopause.

What does this mean?

Achieving and keeping a healthy body weight will support your health before and after menopause.

Is my body weight healthy?

The best way to find out whether losing (or gaining) weight could improve your health and lower your breast cancer risk is to talk with your dietitian or doctor. He or she will help you find the weight range that is healthiest for you. For more information, check out the Your Nutrition Connection on How to Assess Your Body Weight available from the clinic or online at ync.sunnybrook.ca.