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Obesity and cancer

UK: Public do not recognise link between obesity and cancer

Researchers found greater levels of awareness about cancers of the digestive system organs, than for those of the reproductive organs, such as womb or breast

The majority of people in the United Kingdom do not understand the connection between weight issues and cancer, according to a study by Cancer Research UK. Despite the fact that 63% of the English and 67% of the Scottish adult population is overweight, only 25.4% of this population listed cancer as a health issue related to being overweight when asked an unprompted question.

The study, ‘Public awareness and healthcare professional advice for obesity as a risk factor for cancer in the UK: a cross-sectional survey’, published in the Journal of Public Health, after surveyed 3,293 adults, taken as representative of the UK population, researchers found that only a quarter of respondents were aware of the link between obesity and cancer

"We're very concerned that most people simply don't connect cancer with obesity. This study shows that only one in four know that excess weight increases the risk of cancer so we need to make the link very clear. This may go some way towards tackling the obesity epidemic which all too often begins in childhood,” said Dr Jyotsna Vohra from Cancer Research UK and study co-author. "Our study also showed that GPs aren't discussing weight with patients who are too heavy as often as they might. GPs have very little time during their appointments and should have more support to introduce sensitive issues such as obesity, with patients."

There study found that there were also several misconceptions about cancer types linked to obesity. Researchers found greater levels of awareness about cancers of the digestive system organs, than for those of the reproductive organs, such as womb or breast.

The study's authors also examined the impact of respondents' socio-economic background and found that those in a lower income group were more likely to be overweight or obese and were less aware of the link between weight issues and cancer. Modelled projections show obesity trends will increase by 2035 and the gap between the highest and lowest income groups will widen further.

Although there are currently several healthcare initiatives to address obesity issues, the study found that not all participants had seen a healthcare professional in the last 12 months. Of those who had, only 17.4% had received advice about their weight, despite 48.4% being overweight.

Those who received advice were mainly instructed on how to lose weight, rather than given information about the range of health issues associated with being overweight or obese.

“Cancer is not at the forefront of people’s minds when considering health conditions associated with overweight or obesity,” the authors concluded. “Socio-economic disparities exist in health knowledge across the UK population, with adults from more affluent groups being most aware. Healthcare professionals are uniquely positioned to provide advice about weight, but opportunities for intervention are currently under-utilised in healthcare settings.”

To access this paper, please click here

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