6 u A b C o m P r e H e N S I V e C A N C e r C e N T e r
WHILE THE NUMBER of obese adults has grown, so too has
the number of obese children. Fifteen percent of children and
teens ages six to 19—almost 9 million kids—are overweight,
according to data from the National Health and Nutrition
examination Survey. That number has tripled since 1980.
Survivors of childhood cancers also are at a particularly
increased risk of obesity, says Kimberly Whelan, m.D.,
m.S.P.H., associate professor of pediatric hematology-
oncology and uAb Comprehensive Cancer Center associate
scientist. “We have found that, compared to their siblings,
survivors are likely to be less active,” she says. “There are several factors that contribute to
obesity in survivors: if they received cranial radiation, which impacts the pituitary gland;
radiation to the neck, which can lead to thyroid issues; or some treatment modalities such as
amputation or high doses of radiation, which can lead to physical inactivity, a main cause of
Females who were treated before age four are more vulnerable to obesity compared to
older patients or male survivors, Dr. Whelan says.
Dr. Whelan directs the Taking on life after Cancer (TlC) Clinic at Children’s Hospital of
Alabama, which follows childhood cancer survivors for years after their treatments to track the
long-term effects of those treatments. obesity is one late effect the clinic frequently sees, but
while obesity plays a role in adult cancers, its role in childhood cancers is less certain.
“None of the studies have shown that four-year-old who is obese is at an increased risk
of developing cancer,” Dr. Whelan says. “but we know obesity can impact other risks, and
that our survivors are at an increased risk of adult-type cancers. With the increasing rates of
obesity in children, does that increase survivors’ risk of second cancers? We don’t have the
answer to that right now, but it’s an important question to address.”
Growing Up? Obesity in Children
adults who earn less than $15,000 a year are
obese, compared to 24.6 percent of those
earning $50,000 or more. About 33 percent
of those who did not graduate high school are
obese compared to 21.5 percent who gradu-
ated from college or technical school.
One way the Cancer Center is address-
ing this disparity is through its Deep South
Network for Cancer Control (DSN), which
works throughout Alabama and Mississippi
to raise awareness of (and to try to eliminate)
cancer health disparities and develop many
ways to combat them.
Among its efforts is the Body & Soul
initiative, developed for African-American
churches, which encourages parishioners to
eat a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables.
Since its implementation, 50 percent of con-
gregation members are eating at least four
to five servings per day. Likewise, DSN’s
WALK campaign has generated a significant
response by encouraging residents to increase
their physical activity by joining neighbor-
hood walking teams. So far, more than 1,800
people have enrolled in the campaign.
“Our communities are really interested
in obesity and nutrition right now, and we’re
hoping to capitalize on that as much as pos-
sible in our outreach efforts,” says Claudia
Hardy, M.P.A., DSN program director. “This
is a priority area for the DSN going forward
because obesity is a major problem in our tar-
According to Dr. Demark-Wahnefried,
better nutrition is more likely to improve
Kimberly Whelan, M.D.