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Obesity and cancer

Excess weight could cause 700,000 UK cancers by 2035

Credit: Tony Alter
Almost three in four adults will be overweight or obese by 2035, with more people obese than overweight by 2030

Almost 700,000 new cases of cancer linked to being overweight or obese could be diagnosed in the UK during the next 20 years, according to a report from Cancer Research UK and the UK Health Forum. The report, ‘Tipping the scales: why preventing obesity makes economic sense. Cancer Research UK and UK Health Forum Report’, also predicts for the first time the alarming impact obesity will have on cancer in the UK based on current trends. If they continue almost three in four adults will be overweight or obese by 2035, with more people obese than overweight by 2030.

The report estimates that rising rates of obesity and being overweight in the UK could lead not only to 700,000 new cancer cases, but also millions of new cases of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke. This would cost the NHS an additional £2.5 billion a year by 2035 over and above what is already spent on obesity related disease.

“We need to attack the obesity problem on many fronts and we must act now. Otherwise our children will pay the price and the next generation will have poorer health, face more disease and die earlier,” said Alison Cox, director of cancer prevention at Cancer Research UK. “Obesity will be a huge burden to society and the NHS in the near future. We must act now to combat this threat and we need the Government to restrict the marketing of sugary food to children. Kids are bombarded with advertisements for unhealthy food. It’s vital the Government restricts this kind of advertising if we are to give our children the chance for better and healthier lives. We need to attack the obesity problem on many fronts and we must act now. Otherwise our children will pay the price and the next generation will have poorer health, face more disease and die earlier.”

Obesity affects the poorest in society most, with almost half of women – 49 per cent – from the lowest income bracket predicted to be obese by 2035 (Table 1). In addition, overweight children are more likely to develop into obese adults, increasing the risk of cancer and other diseases. One of the main challenges in reducing obesity is cutting the amount of sugar consumed by children and teenagers.

Table 1: Obese proportion of population brokendown by income quartile (%)

Nevertheless, the study does state that small changes can have dramatic impacts with a one per cent shift in the number of people going from the overweight or obese category to the healthy weight category every year could prevent more than 64,000  cancer cases over the next 20 years and save the NHS £300 million in 2035 alone. 

To tackle this obesity epidemic, Cancer Research UK is calling on the Government to act now and introduce a 9pm watershed ban on TV advertising of junk food as well as a 20p per litre tax on sugary drinks as part of a comprehensive children’s obesity strategy. 

“This report makes a very clear economic case for why we must act now to turn the rising tide of obesity,” said Paul Lincoln, chief executive officer at the UK Health Forum. “The government’s planned childhood obesity strategy is a golden opportunity to tackle the availability, affordability and promotion of unhealthy foods that is driving the current crisis in children’s diets. This must become part of a broader national action plan on diet and health for the whole population.” 

To access the report, ‘Tipping the scales: why preventing obesity makes economic sense. Cancer Research UK and UK Health Forum Report’, please click here

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