Most Britons 'do not realise that obesity causes cancer'

9 September 2016

A new report has shed light on the concerning lack of awareness that many people in the UK have about the strong links between obesity and cancer.

The Cancer Research UK study has indicated that as many as 75 per cent people across the country are unaware of the connection between the two conditions, with this lack of awareness shown to be particularly prevalent among men and people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

When asked about specific cancer types, 78 per cent of those asked did not know obesity was linked specifically to ovarian cancer, while 69 per cent did not know about the connection to breast cancer and 53 per cent were unaware that excess weight can contribute to pancreatic cancer.

By contrast, 60 per cent of those surveyed said they knew obesity could be associated with bowel cancer, while 55 per cent were able to link obesity with liver cancer. Nevertheless, the overall trends suggest further education on this subject may be needed on a nationwide scale.

The lack of awareness is a cause for concern as a recent report from Cancer Research UK and the UK Health Forum estimated that if current weight trends continue, there would be a further 670,000 cancer cases over the next 20 years, with the number of obese people likely to be highest among lower-income groups - who are generally among those with the lowest level of education about the risks they face.

Being overweight or obese is the single biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking and is linked to an estimated 18,100 cancer cases each year in the UK. Excess weight and obesity is linked to ten types of cancer in total, including breast, bowel, womb and oesophageal.

Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK's head of health information, said this should act as a reminder for people to do everything can to minimise their risk of developing cancer, including eating a balanced diet and increasing their level of physical activity, especially among children and teenagers.

Alison Cox, director of prevention at Cancer Research UK, said: "Cancer isn't at the forefront of people's minds when talking about obesity, and that's really concerning. Few understand that excess weight increases the risk of several cancers, including some of the most common, such as breast cancer.

"It's the government's responsibility to inform the public of the link and also to take action to tackle the obesity epidemic, starting with the health of the nation's children. It's great the government's childhood obesity plan includes a sugary drinks tax, but it's not enough to curb the rising tide of ill health."

At present, it is estimated that around one-quarter of all UK adults are obese, but this proportion is expected to increase sharply over the coming decades, with childhood obesity expected to be a particularly significant issue.

Posted by Edward Bartel


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