Set your location
Clear Selection

Maintain a healthy weight

Being overweight can increase your cancer risk

Maintain a healthy weight

You can lower your risk of cancer by enjoying a healthy diet, being physically active every day and maintaining a healthy body weight.

Studies show being overweight, physically inactive and not eating well increases your risk of developing cancer.

Being overweight or obese also increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, gall bladder disease, gout, impaired fertility, lower back pain, osteoarthritis and many other conditions.

Body weight

Since the 1980s there has been a steady increase in the number of Australians who are classed as overweight or obese. At least 67% of adults and 25% of children are now considered overweight or obese.

Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing certain types of cancer, including common forms such as bowel and (post-menopausal) breast cancer, as well as cancers of the endometrium, kidney and oesophagus. Three percent of cancer deaths are attributed to having a Body Mass Index over 25.

The Body Mass Index, or BMI, is a measurement used to assess people's body weight - a score over 25 is classed as overweight and a score over 30 is obese.

Waist circumference is another way to measure body weight. Men should aim for a waist circumference below 94cm. Women should aim for a waist circumference below 80cm.

To maintain a healthy body weight, eat a balanced diet that only contains as much energy (kilojoules or calories) as you use each day.

If your BMI is above 25, you should also try to increase your level of physical activity.

Am I overweight or obese?

Use both the body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference to check body fatness.

Body mass index (BMI)

BMI is a measure of your body weight in relation to your height. To work out your BMI, you need to know your weight (in kilograms) and your height (in metres).

Blue and white table of Body Mass Index.


Steve weighs 82kg and is 1.74 metres tall. To calculate his BMI, divide his weight by his height in metres squared: 82/(1.74 x 1.74) = 27kg/m2

Steve's BMI is 27 and is in the overweight range.

Ideally your BMI should be between 18.5 and 25, in the healthy weight range.

However, the specific cut-off measurements of BMI may not be suitable for all ethnic groups, who may have equivalent levels of risk at a lower BMI or higher BMI.

Waist circumference

For some diseases including postmenopausal breast cancer, fat carried around the abdomen and waist is a greater risk than fat carried on the hips and thighs for type.

Illustration of two bodies with tape measure around their waists.

Take your waist circumference measurement at the narrowest point between the lower rib and the top of the hips (the iliac crest) at the end of a normal breath.

  • Men should aim for a waist circumference below 94cm.
  • Women should aim for a waist circumference below 80cm.

What should I do?

If you are overweight or obese it may be because you are eating more than you need for your level of activity.

To maintain a healthy weight, enjoy regular physical activity and eat according to your needs. Make your diet mostly fruit, vegetables, cereals and other low-fat foods.

Losing weight to reach a healthy weight for your height isn't easy, however any weight loss will be beneficial.

Popular weight loss diets generally don't work in the long term. It is better to make small changes to your diet and physical activity habits that you can maintain for a lifetime.

Plan to:

  • make it a priority not to gain more weight
  • reduce your weight by 5-10% if you are overweight or obese. Aim to lose 1 to 4 kilograms per month
  • cut back on foods and drinks high in fats and sugars – snack on vegies and fruit
  • avoid fried foods
  • increase your physical activity.

Remember, if you have any concerns or questions, please contact your doctor.

Nutrition and physical activity in the workplace

Poor nutrition and lack of physical activity increase your risk of developing certain cancers. Encouraging employees to be physically active and to eat healthy food is an important step toward reducing the risk of cancer in your workplace.

Some tips:

  • Encourage people to ride or walk to work and to use the stairs.
  • Provide bike sheds and showers.
  • Include healthy options when catering.
  • At social events and functions, make sure water is readily available and alcohol is served in moderation.
  • Limit the number of vending machines.
  • Walk to a colleague’s desk instead of phoning or emailing.
  • Have standing or walking meetings.
  • Stand at the back of the room during presentations.
  • Use adjustable sit/stand desks to help employees reduce their sitting time.

Learn more about reducing your cancer risk with diet and exercise