The use and interpretation of anthropometric measures in cancer epidemiology: A perspective from the World Cancer Research Fund International Continuous Update Project.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


International journal of cancer (2016)


Anthropometric measures relating to body size, weight and composition are increasingly being associated with cancer risk and progression. Whilst practical in epidemiologic research, where population-level associations with disease are revealed, it is important to be aware that such measures are imperfect markers of the internal physiological processes that are the actual correlates of cancer development. Body mass index (BMI), the most commonly used marker for adiposity, may mask differences between lean and adipose tissue, or fat distribution, which varies across individuals, ethnicities, and stage in the lifespan. Other measures, such as weight gain in adulthood, waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio, contribute information on adipose tissue distribution and insulin sensitivity. Single anthropometric measures do not capture maturational events, including the presence of critical windows of susceptibility (i.e. age of menarche and menopause), which presents a challenge in epidemiologic work. Integration of experimental research on underlying dynamic genetic, hormonal and other non-nutritional mechanisms is necessary for a confident conclusion of the overall evidence in cancer development and progression. This article discusses the challenges confronted in evaluating and interpreting the current evidence linking anthropometric factors and cancer risk as a basis for issuing recommendations for cancer prevention. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.