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Obesity taking over from smoking as the biggest cause of preventable cancer

Obesity is on track to overtake smoking as the single biggest cause of preventable cancer in British women within 25 years, The Guardian reports according to a Cancer Research UK study. The charity expects that within 17 years around 23,000 cases of cancers in women (9% of the total) could be caused by excess weight and about 25,000 (10%) by smoking. If the projected trends continue, obesity as a cause of cancer in women will overtake smoking by 2043, the study says.

The figures for men are different as men are more likely to smoke and to get tobacco-related cancers. The gap between obesity and smoking as causes of cancer is expected to close much later than in woman. The report says the study found that while more males than females are overweight, obesity has a greater effect on women as some of the most common obesity-related cancers predominantly affect them, such as breast and womb cancers.

Cancer Research UK is launching a UK-wide campaign to increase awareness of the links between obesity and cancer. Being overweight as an adult increases the risk of 13 different types of cancer, including breast, bowel and kidney, yet just one in seven people in the UK are aware of the link, it says.

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

She said measures should include a ban on junk food adverts before 9pm and restrictions on price promotions of “less healthy” products. “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,” Bauld said.

“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.”

The report quotes Dr Alison Tedstone, the chief nutritionist at Public Health England, as saying: “Bold action is needed to tackle obesity, the challenge of a generation. We’re at the forefront of turning the tide – our sugar and calorie reduction programme and the government’s sugar levy are world-leading – but this is just the beginning of a long journey.”

Simon Stevens, NHS England’s CEO, said: “Obesity is the new smoking, one of the greatest public health challenges of our generation.” The risk of cancer, heart attacks and type two diabetes meant that “expanding waistlines” caused a heavier burden for taxpayers, he said, “which is why as we draw up a long-term plan for the National Health Service (NHS), we are exploring all options to help patients to help themselves and help the NHS”.

According to the report, Caroline Cerny, of Obesity Health Alliance, described the study as alarming and called for a restriction on junk food marketing of all types, including a 9pm watershed on TV.

While smoking increases personal risk more than obesity, many more people are overweight or obese than smoke. Smoking currently causes 18% of cases of cancer in men (around 32,000 a year) and 12% (around 22,000) in women. Excess weight currently causes 5% (9,600) of cases of cancer in men and 7.5% (13,200) in women.

[link url="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/sep/24/obesity-to-eclipse-smoking-as-biggest-cause-of-cancer-in-uk-women-by-2043"]The Guardian report[/link]
[link url="https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/sites/default/files/obesity_tobacco_cross_over_report_final.pdf"]Cancer Research UK study[/link]

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