Threat of 'public health disaster' as cancer increases around the world


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The Independent Online

The rising toll of cancer and chronic diseases in the UK and around the world threatens a "public health disaster", a leading charity warned yesterday.

A UN summit later this month offers a "once in a generation opportunity" to halt the rise by reducing the 80,000 cases of cancer known to be linked to poor diet, lack of exercise and obesity in the UK each year and the 2.8m in other countries.

The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), which released the figures, called on David Cameron to attend the summit in New York on 19 September to demonstrate his commitment to tackling disease in the UK and worldwide.

The UK has adopted a softly, softly approach by recruiting commercial interests to tackle rising obesity and sedentary lifestyles. But experts warned against involving food and drink companies in developing policy which risked "derailing" the summit.

Professor Martin Wiseman, medical and scientific adviser for the WCRF, said: "While this is an issue facing millions globally, every day in the UK people are being diagnosed with a cancer that could have been prevented. Yet many people are still unaware that risk factors such as alcohol and obesity affect cancer risk, while from television advertising to the pricing of food, our society works in a way that discourages people from adopting healthy habits."

Cancer is increasing everywhere as life expectancy grows and poorer countries adopt western lifestyles. The number of people affected has risen by a fifth in the last decade to 12m new cases a year, more than four times the number infected annually with HIV.

The UK government has drawn criticism for its rejection of legal restrictions on food and drink manufacturers in favour of voluntary "responsibility" deals in which firms agree target reductions in fat and salt.

The UK ranks 22nd out of 50 in a global chart with 267 cases per 100,000 people, more than in Spain, France, Croatia, Sweden and Finland. Denmark heads the chart with 326 cases per 100,000.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "Government alone cannot improve public health. We need to work in a broad partnership with public health, voluntary and commercial organisations, which can reach the public in ways Government cannot."