Skip to main content

Together we are beating cancer

Donate now

Obese people turn a blind eye to health risks

The Cancer Research UK logo
by Cancer Research UK | News

6 January 2006

0 comments 0 comments

More than a quarter of obese and overweight people do not want to lose weight and many more are unaware of the benefits brought by a healthy lifestyle, a new survey by Cancer Research UK reveals..

More than half of the 4000 men and women surveyed were overweight or obese. But 87 per cent of obese people and 32 per cent of overweight people failed to identify their correct weight category.

Being obese or overweight increases cancer risk. But 71 per cent of those at risk because of their weight did not know of the cancer connection.

Cancer Research UK has joined forces with the charity Weight Concern to develop Ten Top Tips – a set of weight management guidelines that can be incorporated into everyday routines without radical lifestyle change. The scientifically-based programme involves adopting ten simple steps and using a weekly checklist over eight weeks to monitor progress and help reinforce the new habits.

Nearly 50 per cent of obese and overweight people did not believe that eating healthily could help reduce cancer risk; almost two thirds (64 per cent) were unaware that regular exercise could reduce risk; more than 80 per cent did not know the importance of maintaining a healthy body weight and almost 80 per cent failed to recognise the importance of moderation when drinking alcohol to reduce cancer risk.

More than 4000 men and women from across the United Kingdom were interviewed by BMRB to investigate perceptions and attitudes to carrying extra weight and knowledge of the associated risk of cancer.

The new survey coincides with the launch of the second year of Cancer Research UK’s Reduce the Risk campaign. Reduce the Risk aims to raise awareness of the avoidable risks of cancer and highlight ways to reduce this risk. Ten Top Tips form a key element of this year’s campaign.

Being obese or overweight is one of the most significant preventable causes of cancer in non-smokers yet rates of obesity are increasing. Obesity is linked with an increased risk of bowel, kidney, oesophageal and stomach cancers, as well as cancer of the womb and breast cancer in post-menopausal women.

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s worrying to think that people are in denial about their weight. People who are carrying extra weight face significant health risks including cancer.

“Obesity is one of the biggest known preventable causes of cancer for those who don’t smoke. These results show far too many of those at greatest risk are choosing to ignore their weight. They are unaware of their increased risk of cancer and unaware of many of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

“The Reduce the Risk campaign offers people health messages and practical advice they can use to change unhealthy habits for healthy ones. With support and information, the quarter of obese and overweight people who do not wish to lose weight will hopefully join the majority who would like to.”

Professor Jane Wardle, director of Cancer Research UK’s Health Behaviour Unit said: “In today’s world of high fat food and less active lifestyles, quick-fix diets are unlikely to provide a long-term solution to the obesity epidemic. The Ten Top Tips programme is specifically designed to help people develop routines that are easy to follow and become ‘automatic’ over time. If followed over the long term they will help people lose weight and keep it off.”

Caroline Swain, Executive Director of Weight Concern said, “The survey findings highlight a widespread lack of concern about obesity. Education and support are a vital component in tackling the alarming rise in obesity in this country. By working together and sharing our combined expertise, Cancer Research UK and Weight Concern are offering people practical and simple ways to control their weight and reduce their risk of cancer.”

The set of scientifically-based guidelines is designed to help people adopt healthy habits that can be sustained for long-term weight maintenance. Based on psychological theories of habit formation, the easy-to-follow tips can be incorporated into people’s everyday routines without major lifestyle change. A key part of successfully losing weight on the programme is using a simple ‘tick sheet’ tracking tool which accompanies the tips and has been shown to help behaviour change.

The tips themselves are as follows (the tick sheet is available from the Reduce the Risk website

1) Keep to your meal routine Try to eat at roughly the same times each day, whether this is two or five times a day.

2) Go reduced fat Choose reduced fat versions of foods such as dairy products, spreads and salad dressings where you can. Use them sparingly as some can still be high in fat.

3) Walk off the weight Walk 10,000 steps (equivalent to 60-90 minutes moderate activity) each day. You can use a pedometer to help count the steps. You can break-up your walking throughout the day.

4) Pack a healthy snack If you snack, choose a healthy option such as fresh fruit or low calorie yogurts instead of chocolate or crisps.

5) Look at the labels Be careful about food claims. Check the fat and sugar content on food labels when shopping and preparing food.

6) Caution with your portions Don’t heap food on your plate (except vegetables). Think twice before having second helpings.

7) Up on your feet Break up your sitting time. Stand up for ten minutes out of every hour.

8) Think about your drinks Choose water or sugar-free squashes. Unsweetened fruit juice is high in natural sugar so limit it to 1 glass per day (200ml/ 1/3 pint). Alcohol is high in calories. Try to limit the amount you drink.

9) Focus on your food Slow down. Don’t eat on the go or while watching TV. Eat at a table if possible.

10) Don’t forget your 5 a day Eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day (400g in total).


For media enquiries please contact Paul Thorne in the Press Office on 020 7061 8352 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.