Low levels of physical activity and high levels of energy intake and body mass have all been directly associated with colon cancer. The purpose of this study was to determine how physical inactivity interacts with other components of energy balance (energy intake and body mass) in determining colon cancer risk. Data were obtained from 2073 first primary cases of colon cancer and 2466 age- and sex-matched controls identified from 8 counties in Utah, the Northern California Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, and the Twin Cities metropolitan area in Minnesota. Recent and lifetime physical activity was assessed by intensity of activities performed at home, leisure, and at work; energy intake was estimated from an extensive diet history questionnaire; and body mass index (BMI) was calculated from measured height at the time of interview and reported weight for the referent year. For both men and women, lack of lifetime vigorous leisure-time activity was associated with increased risk of colon cancer [odds ratio (OR), 1.63 and 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.26–2.12 for men and OR, 1.59 and 95% CI, 1.21–2.10 for women, comparing the lowest to highest level of activity]. There were no differences in risk associated with physical activity by tumor site within the colon or by age at diagnosis. High levels of energy intake were also associated with increased risk of colon cancer in men and women (OR, 1.74 and 95% CI, 1.14–2.67 for men and OR, 1.70 and 95% CI, 1.07–2.70 for women). A large BMI was more associated with increased risk in men (OR, 1.94 and 95% CI, 1.49–2.54) than in women (OR, 1.45 and 95% CI, 1.08–1.94). Those at greatest risk of colon cancer were those who had the most unfavorable energy balance in that they were physically inactive, had high energy intakes, and had a large BMI (OR, 3.35 and 95% CI, 2.09–5.35). However, when physical activity was high, having a high energy intake and large BMI resulted in a nonsignificant increased colon cancer risk (OR, 1.28 and 95% CI, 0.81–2.03). This pattern was consistent between the sexes, but there was some evidence that men may be at higher risk than women, especially older women, as a result of unfavorable energy balance. These results support previous findings that physical inactivity, high energy intake, and large body mass are associated with increased risk of developing colon cancer. However, energy balance as a whole seems to be associated with risk of colon cancer. These findings suggest systemic metabolic influences on carcinogenesis and have important implications for prevention.


This study was funded by Grant R01 CA48998 (to M. L. S). The contents of this manuscript are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the National Cancer Institute.

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