University of Kansas Medical Center steps in to stop alarming increase in obesity-related cancers

KANSAS CITY, Kan. - Obesity is on track to replace smoking as the leading cause of preventable cancers if the current trends continue, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Obesity is a contributing factor in 84 thousand cancer cases diagnosed every year. One in five cancer-related deaths is blamed on excess weight and obesity.

The University of Kansas Medical Center is stepping in to stop obesity in rural communities in Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota. They're conducting a study called RE-POWER, Rural Engagement in Primary Care for Optimizing Weight Reduction.

Christie Befort, Ph.D., is an associate professor of preventive medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center. She received a $10 million dollar grant from The National Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute to determine which weight loss strategies work best for rural residents.

"Four out of 10 rural Americans have a Body Mass Index over 30 which puts them in the obese category and at high risk for many conditions. We think of diabetes and heart disease; but it also puts them at high risk for cancer as well," said Befort.

The research expert said rural Americans do not have as much access to healthy food or weight loss programs in their communities.

"There are no YMCA's, there are no weight watchers.  They don't have the typical programs we might see heavily utilized in more urban areas," Befort explained.

Researchers in the new study are testing the effectiveness of three weight loss strategies:

  • A Weight Watchers-style program with regular weigh-ins and group meetings
  • Regular phone calls with a dietitian from the University of Kansas Medical Center
  • Traditional patient visits with their local physicians.

Tate Toedman man, is enrolled in the RE-POWER program group meetings in rural Sebetha, Kansas near the Nebraska boarder. He qualified for the program because he was obese. Since joining the program six months ago, Toedman has lost 74 pounds.

"My very heaviest was 295 and tonight at weigh-in I was 221 pounds,' Toedman explained.

Like many rural Kansas residents, Toedman started packing on the pounds because he changed jobs and became more sedentary and started making unhealthy food choices.

One of the key components of the RE-POWER program is the Lose It app. Toedman and other members re able to keep track of how many calories they consume and their exercise. 

"I am no longer taking blood pressure medicine; my cholesterol has improved; I'm no longer taking cholesterol meds," he said.  "It's so incredible how much better I feel and that I went for so many years at that heavy of a weight and that I can do so much more," "Toedman continued. 

If you live in the 4-state area in rural communities and you would like to enroll in the RE-POWER program, you can call 913-912-3334. 

Click here for a list of rural practices that are participating in RE-POWER.

If you are not in the study-area; but you live in a rural community and you want help losing weight there are various options:

  • Work with your local doctor to find medical professionals in your community who can help.
  • Search online to find programs that could help you achieve your weight-loss goals.
  • Use the Lose-It app that participants in the RE-POWER program are using.

For more information on the connection between obesity and cancer visit, Science Daily and



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