Obesity 'Will Fuel Surge in Cancers'

January 07, 2016

Expected increases in the number of people overweight or obese in the UK could lead to almost 670,000 extra cases of cancer, according to a new report.

The study by Cancer Research UK and the UK Health Forum also predicts millions of new cases of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke and calls for a national strategy to reduce obesity.

Costing the NHS

The report, 'Tipping the scales: Why preventing obesity makes economic sense', predicts that almost 3 in 4 adults will be overweight or obese by 2035.

It says treating obesity and the diseases it causes would lead to an extra £2.51 billion a year in NHS and social care costs.

Among the key findings for 2035:

· 72% of the UK adult population could be overweight or obese

· 39% of adults are predicted to be obese

· More men than women would be overweight or obese - 76% of men compared with 69% of women

· Although the problems of being overweight or obese would affect people from all backgrounds, the poorest people in society would continue to be heaviest.

The findings, which rely on a computer model developed during a government obesity project, suggest that in 2013 alone, around 440,000 new cases of disease would be attributable to people being overweight or obese in the UK. This includes around 257,200 new cases of type 2 diabetes.

Over the next 20 years, rising levels of obesity could lead to around an additional 4.62 million cases of type 2 diabetes, 1.63 million cases of coronary heart disease and 670,000 new cases of cancer.

Being overweight is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of between 25 and 29.9. People who are obese have a BMI of 30 or over.

An Agenda for Change

The report says one positive finding is that small changes would bring about meaningful improvements in public health and healthcare finances. For instance, reducing the numbers of people who are overweight or obese by just 1% each year below predicted trends would save the NHS £300 million in 2035 alone.

The report details a series of measures to cut obesity rates. These include:

· A 6am to 9pm ban on TV adverts aimed at marketing unhealthy food and drink at children

· Restricting online marketing of unhealthy food and drink

· A 'sugar tax' of 20p a litre on sugar-sweetened beverages

· Examining the case for making food with high levels of sugar, salt and fat more expensive while increasing the affordability of healthy alternatives

· Extending front-of-pack nutritional colour coding to more food and drink products

· Improving people's access to recreation facilities and encouraging walking and cycling.

'Junk Food Is Cheap'

Alison Cox, director of cancer prevention at Cancer Research UK, says in a statement: "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."

TV chef and food campaigner Jamie Oliver told the charity that educating people about food is key: "We’re raising a generation of children in a society where junk food is cheap, widely advertised, and packed full of sugar so it's difficult to teach them how to make healthy choices.

"We need to give these kids a chance to be healthier adults - starting with a tax on sugary drinks to tackle obesity and diet-related disease in young people."

Susan Jebb, professor of diet and population health at the University of Oxford, describes the report as "robust". In a statement she says: "There is growing awareness of the links between obesity and diabetes or heart disease, but the links to cancer are less well recognised. Most people know that smoking causes cancer, but fortunately, most people in the UK now don’t smoke and for them, managing their weight is the single most important thing they can do to reduce their risk of cancer.

"The suggestions for interventions to help curb rising weight are not new but are timely reminders of the array of options for government ahead of the publication of their new obesity strategy. Early prevention of obesity is crucial, but the report overlooks the need to save lives now by investing in effective support for the many people who are already overweight. This will benefit individuals affected by obesity but also wider society."


'Tipping the scales: Why preventing obesity makes economic sense', Cancer Research UK, UK Health Forum.

Cancer Research UK.

Science Media Centre.

Reviewed on January 07, 2016


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