Obesity to overtake smoking as biggest preventable cause of cancer among UK women within 25 years

'Obesity is a huge public health threat right now, and it will only get worse if nothing is done,' warns charity

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Monday 24 September 2018 11:15 BST
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What is the biggest cause of cancer after smoking? Cancer Research asks the public

Obesity will likely overtake smoking as the biggest preventable cause of cancer in UK women within 25 years, according to a leading cancer charity.

Cancer Research UK has previously warned of the underappreciated link between being overweight and cancer, and their new report predicts this issue will only become more urgent in coming years.

Excess weight increases the risk of 13 types of cancer, including breast, bowel and kidney cancers.

However, while much has been made of the association between smoking and cancer, the charity says that most of the British public is still unaware of this danger of being overweight.

One study conducted last year found that only one in seven people are aware of the link, and Cancer Research UK is launching a new campaign in a bid to raise awareness.

In March, the head of NHS England warned that the role it played in triggering type 2 diabetes and cancer made obesity “the new smoking”, and said the scale of the response from the health service must match the severity of the problem.

“Obesity is a huge public health threat right now, and it will only get worse if nothing is done,” said Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert Professor Linda Bauld.

“The UK government must build on the lessons of smoking prevention to reduce the number of weight-related cancers by making it easier to keep a healthy weight and protect children, as those who are overweight are five times more likely to be so as an adult.”

“That’s why we are raising awareness of the link between cancer and obesity and calling for measures to protect children like a ban on junk food adverts before 9pm and for restrictions on price promotions of ‘less healthy’ products.”

Smoking increases the risk of cancer more than being overweight, but many more people are obese than smoke.

This means that in years to come obesity is set to tip the balance, for women in particular.

Though more men than women in the UK are obese, it has a more harmful effect on women as some of the most common obesity-related cancers mainly affect them, including those of the breast and womb.

Men are also more likely to suffer from smoking-related cancers simply because they are more likely to smoke than women.

The number of cases of preventable “lifestyle cancers” linked to habits like smoking, bad diet and excessive sun exposure have risen by a third in a decade around the world, according to a study released in June.

In the UK, efforts to cut smoking such as banning cigarette displays in shops have proved successful, but experts have urged a similar focus on unhealthy diets and obesity.

“The decline in smoking is a cause for celebration. It shows how decades of effort to raise awareness about the health risks plus strong political action including taxation, removing tobacco marketing and a ban on smoking in indoor public places, have paid off,” said Professor Bauld.

“But, just as there is still more to do to support people to quit smoking, we also need to act now to halt the tide of weight-related cancers and ensure this projection never becomes a reality.”

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