HONG KONG | Wed Jun 30, 2010 2:10pm EDT

201007global.jpgHONG KONG (Reuters) – Asians who are overweight or obese are more likely to die from cancer compared with people of normal weight, a large study in Asia has found.

Obesity is regarded a risk factor for certain cancers in the West, but until now it had not been clear if it poses the same risks to Asians.

Researchers monitored 401,215 people in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand for four years.

Compared to people of normal weight, participants who were obese were 21 percent more likely to die from cancer while those who were overweight had a 6 percent higher chance, the study found.

Obese participants were particularly vulnerable to cancers of the colon, rectum, breast, ovary, cervix, prostate, and leukemia, the researchers found.

"Overweight and obese individuals in populations across the Asia-Pacific region have a significantly increased risk of mortality from cancer," the researchers wrote in a paper published in The Lancet Oncology on Wednesday.

"New strategies are urgently needed to tackle the obesity epidemic in Asia to prevent further increases in the cancer burden in this region," said the group, which was led by Christine Parr at the University of Oslo in Norway.

There has been a rapid increase in obesity in many Asian countries in the last few decades, fueled by growing affluence and people moving from the countryside to cities, where they have become sedentary and are eating fattier foods.