Middle-aged millennials are set to be the most overweight generation since records began, with experts warning they are unwittingly and significantly increasing their risk of cancer.
Analysis by Cancer Research UK (CRUK) shows that on current trends 70 per cent of millennials, those born between the early 1980s to mid-1990s, will be overweight or obese by the age 35 to 45.
However, despite being linked to 800,000 cancer cases a year, the vast majority of people are unaware of the additional risk obesity brings.
Health campaigners said the figures were “horrifying” and a consequence of the Government only paying “lip service” to tackle the obesity crisis, while slashing health budgets.
The seven out of 10 figure for millennials compared to around 50 per cent of the “baby boomer” generation, born between 1945 and 1955, who were overweight or obese in their thirties and forties.
“This means millennials are the most overweight generation since current records began”, said CRUK after it extrapolated current obesity trends to look at the state of the nation’s weight in 2028.
The UK is already the most overweight nation in Western Europe, with obesity rates rising even faster than in the US.
However, just 15 per cent of people in the UK are aware that being obese increases your risks of developing bowel, kidney and breast cancers, and at least 10 other types.
Obesity is second only to smoking in the cancer causes rankings and, in a campaign launching today, the charity is aiming to make the risks clear to the wider public.
Handing out cigarette packets filled with chips to shoppers in Aylesbury as part of the new advertising campaign, CRUK asked members of the public to guess the second biggest cause of cancer.
Most people said alcohol or sunbeds, ahead of obesity.
Shopper Lottie Goodchild, 24, said unhealthy eating habits were so ingrained in the younger generation that many “are practically obese without even knowing it”.
“We need families to support each other to keep a healthy balanced lifestyle, and we need the Government to provide the best possible environment for this to happen,” she added.
One of the campaign’s aims is to move millennials away from “health food trends” and towards eating a more consistently balanced diet.
CRUK is also lobbying the Government to ban junk food advertising before the 9pm watershed in a bid to protect young children from promotions for fattening food.
These are proposals NHS chiefs at Public Health England (PHE) said they were also reviewing.
PHE called for a “calorie cap” on ready meals earlier this year.
Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert, said: “Clever marketing tactics by the food industry and greater access to unhealthy food are all likely to have contributed to the rise in obesity rates.
“Extra body fat doesn’t just sit there; it sends messages around the body that can cause damage to cells. This damage can build up over time and increase the risk of cancer in the same way that damage from smoking causes cancer.
“While these estimates sound bleak, we can stop them becoming a reality. Millennials are known for following seemingly healthy food trends, but nothing beats a balanced diet.”
Tam Fry, chair of the National Obesity Forum, said the current Conservative Government, and its predecessor in the 1990s when the millennial generation was born, had failed to act on healthy eating.
“The figures are horrifying,” he said. “They are the result of successive governments paying only lip service to tackling an obesity crisis which was already headlines 20 years ago.
“Until the UK gets a government that is serious about obesity and implements the bold policies that we have long been promised, 70 per cent could well be an underestimate.”
The Government’s own experts at Public Health England said the figures were predictable.
“We know overweight and obese children are likely to be the same when they become adults,” said Louis Levy, head of nutrition science at PHE.
“The majority of UK adults are already overweight or obese and, in addition to some cancers, it is a cause of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.”
He added that PHE would be launching a public consultation on junk food advertising to children “shortly”.
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