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Calls for men to exercise as record obesity rates increase cancer risks

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by Cancer Research UK | News

25 June 2003

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An alarming increase in obesity in UK men is placing many at an increased risk of a number of cancers, reveals a worrying summary report.

Latest figures show male obesity rates here are fast approaching those in America – dubbed the fat capital of the world. Currently, around 20 per cent of men in the UK are obese1 and a further 50 per cent are overweight.

The summary has been compiled for Cancer Research UK and NIVEA FOR MEN to discover whether British males can be persuaded to ditch their couch potato lifestyles and take regular exercise – which experts believe will be key in controlling the problem.

The news comes in the launch week of Cancer Research UK’s Cycle for Life2 in association with NIVEA FOR MEN, which urges men to step up their fitness levels to cut down their chances of getting the disease, whilst raising funds for research into the cancers that affect men.

The timely 18-ride series, which begins on Sunday, follows new statistics, which reveal that 48 per cent of young men are failing to take the recommended 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days of the week.

Professor Jane Wardle, Director of the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Unit, says: “Obesity is avoidable and men can really do something to reverse the trends we are seeing. Balancing a healthy diet with regular vigorous exercise is the key to preventing weight gain.

“Worryingly, evidence shows that young men are not eating as healthily as they should and are less likely to take part in physical activity as they get older. Encouraging men of all ages to eat healthily and take regular exercise will reduce the obesity figures.”

Cancer Research UK funded scientist, Professor Julian Peto, based at The Institute of Cancer Research and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says: “Obesity increases the risk of developing several cancers. So it’s disturbing to see that the condition has increased by more than 60 per cent in men over the last decade.

“About 1 in 8 of all cancer deaths in British non-smokers may be due to being overweight or obese.”

Preventing weight problems in childhood will be the way to stop the rates of obesity soaring in the future, experts say. Prof Wardle is currently running an obesity prevention study for children with the first results due to be published next year.

“The obesity epidemic is expected to grow over the next decade as children in the UK are getting fatter. Adults are more likely to become obese if they are overweight at a young age. So it’s important to encourage children to adopt healthy eating and lifestyle habits early on to prevent both obesity and cancer developing,” she adds.

Jo Edwards from NIVEA says: “At NIVEA FOR MEN, we believe that attractiveness is not just skin deep. To look your best on the outside, it’s essential to be healthy within. There are steps that all men can take to look after their appearance and long-term health. Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most important.

“We are concerned that obesity in men is on the up because, as well as affecting your appearance, our colleagues at Cancer Research UK tell us it can create serious problems for your health. We are pleased to be working to raise awareness of this issue and urge men to get on their bikes for Cycle for Life.”

Dr Richard Sullivan, Head of Clinical Programmes at Cancer Research UK, says: “The rise in obesity in men is due to a combination of increasingly sedentary lifestyles and high consumption of junk foods. We men are renowned for turning a blind eye when it comes to our health. Research shows that overweight men can be blissfully unaware of their weight problem, and those few that do realise it’s a health issue do nothing about it.

“I welcome this initiative between Cancer Research UK and NIVEA FOR MEN to promote Cycle for Life as a way of getting men to step their fitness levels up a gear as well as raise funds for research into cancers that affect men.”


  1. Doctors classify someone as obese when their body mass index (BMI) exceeds 30 and overweight if it exceeds 25. Body mass index is calculated by dividing a persons weight in kilograms by the square of their height in metres.

    The role of obesity in the risk of developing cancer cannot be overemphasised. Recent reviews have highlighted significant links with the post-menopausal breast cancer and cancers of the endometrium, gall-bladder and kidney. However many other istes also contribute to overall cancer risk, including prostate cancer in men and cancers of the colon, rectum and pancreas in both sexes.

    Professor Julian Peto presented data on the link between obesity and cancer for Cancer Research UK to the House of Commons Health Committee for their enquiry into obesity on Thursday June 26, 2003.

  2. Cycle for Life, in association with NIVEA FOR MEN, was a series of 18 bike rides across the country. These raised vital funds for the charity’s research into cancers that affect men. Supported by England Football Manager, Sven-Göran Eriksson and TV presenter Vernon Kay, the 15 mile rides took place at various locations around the UK, starting at the end of June and running until the first week of September.

    Cycle for Life took place at the following locations:

    • Rosslyn Park Football Club (RFC), nr Richmond, London – 29/6/03
    • Pride Park Stadium, Derby – 6/7/03
    • York Racecourse The Knavesmire, York – 6/7/03
    • Kingsway School, Chester – 13/7/03
    • Tatton Park, Manchester – 20/7/03
    • Homefield School, Christchurch, Dorset – 20/7/03
    • Willen Lake, Milton Keynes – 20/7/03
    • Coombe Country Park, Coventry – 27/7/03
    • East Park, Hull – 27/7/03
    • Lydiard Country Park, Swindon – 27/7/03
    • Coldham’s Common, Cambridge – 10/8/03
    • Tredegar Country Park, Newport, South Wales – 10/8/03
    • Lickey Hills Country Park, Birmingham – 17/8/03
    • Meadowfield Leisure Centre, Durham – 17/8/03
    • The Rivermead Leisure Centre, Reading – 17/8/03
    • Harewood House, Leeds – 31/8/03
    • The Rose Bowl, Southampton – 31/8/03
    • Killerton House, Broadclyst, Exeter – 7/9/03

    NIVEA FOR MEN, the UK’s leading skin care range for men, is proud to support Cancer Research UK in raising money to cure cancer faster. As the official sponsor for Cycle for Life we want to help men look good as well as feel great. Whilst NIVEA FOR MEN helps men to look their best, looking good also comes from within and NIVEA FOR MEN are supporting Cycle for Life in promoting a healthy lifestyle inside and out.