Obesity can increase your chances of getting cancer.

February is Cancer Prevention Month and a new survey finds Iowans still aren’t getting the message about the biggest cancer risks.

Doctor Nigel Brockton, vice president of research at the American Institute for Cancer Research, says the widespread lack of awareness in the state and nation is astounding. “Less than 50% of people are aware that diet is related to cancer risk,” Brockton says. “Under 40% are aware that too little physical activity is related to cancer risk, and just over half, 53% are aware that overweight and obesity increases your risk of cancer.”

The obesity rate is quickly rising in Iowa. The latest surveys find 35% of Iowa adults are obese, a big jump up from 20% in the year 2000. “That’s one of the strongest risk factors,” Brockton says. “It increases your risk for 12 different types of cancer, some of the big, common cancers: breast, colorectal, prostate. It’s actually expected that obesity is going to overtake smoking as the strongest risk factor for cancer in the next 15 or 20 years.”

The “Cancer in Iowa” report in 2019 from the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health estimated two in every five Iowans will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes. It predicted more than 18,000 Iowans would be diagnosed with cancer during the year and that 6,400 Iowans would die from cancer.

The website for the American Institute for Cancer Research has a Cancer Health Check and Brockton says all Iowans could benefit from taking the three-minute screening. “This is a free online survey,” he says. “You can go in and it asks you questions about yourself, about your height and weight, but also about various aspects of your diet, fruit and vegetable intake, whole grains, red and processed meats, fast food, alcohol — to really check in on your health.”

The online tool, according to Brockton, can help people assess their lifestyle choices and learn how to live healthier lives.