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Vanity beats cancer as motivation for weight loss

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by Cancer Research UK | News

9 August 2006

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PEOPLE rate looking good over reducing the risk of cancer as a reason to maintain a healthy body weight – according to a new survey by Cancer Research UK.

The findings show widespread lack of knowledge about the link between obesity and cancer risk. Forty per cent of people think looking good is an advantage of maintaining a healthy body weight, compared with 32 per cent for lowering the risk of cancer. Twice as many people – 67 per cent – picked reducing the risk of heart disease.

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

Cancer Research UK and Weight Concern have joined forces to develop a weight management programme called Ten Top Tips. These tips have been designed to fit into daily life and are based on the best scientific evidence. The programme involves adopting ten simple steps and using a weekly checklist over eight weeks to monitor progress and reinforce the new habits into a lifetime of healthy behaviour.

Cancer Research UK interviewed over 4000 people from around the UK to identify the factors that motivate people to maintain a healthy body weight.

The respondents were offered a range of reasons to choose from, including ‘to make me feel healthier’, ‘to lower my risk of heart disease’, ‘to lower my risk of cancer’, ‘to feel better about myself’, ‘to be more active’, and ‘to reduce my risk of diabetes’, as well as ‘to look good’.

Reducing the risk of cancer was selected less frequently than many of the other responses as a benefit of maintaining a healthy body weight, although it did score slightly higher than ‘to fit into nicer clothes’.

Those aged between 25 and 34 proved the most image-conscious with nearly half – 48 per cent – saying that looking good was a reason for a healthy weight and only 34 per cent picking cancer risk as a motivating factor. Looking good and cancer risk were equal reasons for those over 65 with 25 per cent listing both.

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: “This research provides a real insight into the priorities many of us have when it comes to looking after our bodies and the low awareness of the link between obesity and cancer. We know for those who don’t smoke, maintaining a healthy body weight is one of the most important things we can do to reduce our risk of cancer.

“The Ten Top Tips offer clear information and practical advice, helping people form lifelong habits to maintain a healthy body weight.”

Professor Jane Wardle, director of Cancer Research UK’s health behaviour unit, said: “At the height of summer many of us are worried about looking good and it is not surprising these results show that so many of us are motivated by our body image when it comes to our weight. What is alarming is that so many people are unaware that reducing cancer risk is a benefit of maintaining a healthy body weight.

“We need to continue raising awareness of the dangers of obesity, and offer information to help people lose those extra pounds and maintain a healthy weight. Visiting Reduce the Risk. and following the Ten Top Tips is the first step towards a healthier body. ”


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