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Almost 700,000* new cases of cancer linked to being overweight or obese could be diagnosed in the UK during the next 20 years, according to a new report** from Cancer Research UK and the UK Health Forum.
The report also predicts for the first time the alarming impact obesity will have on cancer in the UK based on current trends. If they continue almost three in four adults will be overweight or obese by 2035.*** Even more concerning is the prediction that more people will be obese than overweight by 2030.
“If governments take children’s health more seriously and use education to inspire them we could have a huge impact on their health and wellbeing.” – Jamie Oliver, chef and campaigner
The report estimates that rising rates of obesity and being overweight in the UK could lead not only to 700,000 new cancer cases, but also millions of new cases of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke.**** This would cost the NHS an additional £2.5 billion a year by 2035 over and above what is already spent on obesity related disease.
But on the plus side the study shows that small changes can have dramatic impacts. Just a one per cent shift in the number of people going from the overweight or obese category to the healthy weight category every year could prevent more than 64,000 cancer cases over the next 20 years and save the NHS £300 million in 2035 alone.*****
Obesity affects the poorest in society most, with almost half of women – 49 per cent – from the lowest income bracket predicted to be obese by 2035. (reference table below)
And overweight children are more likely to develop into obese adults, increasing the risk of cancer and other diseases. One of the main challenges in reducing obesity is cutting the amount of sugar consumed by children and teenagers.
“We need to attack the obesity problem on many fronts and we must act now. Otherwise our children will pay the price and the next generation will have poorer health, face more disease and die earlier.” – Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK
To tackle this obesity epidemic, Cancer Research UK is calling on the Government to act now and introduce a 9pm watershed ban on TV advertising of junk food as well as a 20p per litre tax on sugary drinks as part of a comprehensive children’s obesity strategy.
Jamie Oliver, petitioning for a UK tax on sugary drinks, said: “Being overweight or obese can cause many diseases including some cancers. But I believe we can prevent the rising trend in obesity in the UK and across the world. Food education is key here. If governments take children’s health more seriously and use education to inspire them we could have a huge impact on their health and wellbeing.
“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.”
Alison Cox, director of cancer prevention at Cancer Research UK, said: “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.
“Kids are bombarded with advertisements for unhealthy food. It’s vital the Government restricts this kind of advertising if we are to give our children the chance for better and healthier lives.
“We need to attack the obesity problem on many fronts and we must act now. Otherwise our children will pay the price and the next generation will have poorer health, face more disease and die earlier.”
Paul Lincoln, chief executive officer at the UK Health Forum, said: “This report makes a very clear economic case for why we must act now to turn the rising tide of obesity. The government’s planned childhood obesity strategy is a golden opportunity to tackle the availability, affordability and promotion of unhealthy foods that is driving the current crisis in children’s diets. This must become part of a broader national action plan on diet and health for the whole population.”
- More on our blog: ‘Obesity and cancer – time for concerted action‘
For media enquiries contact Emma Rigby in the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 5314 or, out of hours, on 07050 264 059.
**Tipping the scales: why preventing obesity makes economic sense. Cancer Research UK and UK Health Forum Report.
*** If current trends were to continue, 76% of men and 69% of women could become overweight or obese by 2035. ‘Obese’ is predicted to become the most common weight category (relative to ‘healthy weight’ and ‘overweight’) at some point between 2025 and 2030 for women and between 2030 and 2035 for men.
Table 5: Predicted prevalence of obesity if trends continue, by income quintile (%)
Obese proportion of population, overall (%)
Obese proportion of population, broken down by income quintiles (%)
Women in 2015
Women in 2035
Men in 2015
Men in 2035
Total in 2035
**** The following diseases were included in the calculation of the NHS costs: obesity-related cancers, stroke, diabetes and coronary heart disease. NHS costs consist of the following: prevention and health promotion, primary care (primary care and prescriptions), secondary care (inpatient: elective and day-case, inpatient: non-elective, outpatient and other secondary care), urgent care/emergency care costs (ambulance and Accident and Emergency), community care, cost of care provided in other settings and NHS social care.
***** These results reflect the predicted average obesity prevalence and are not inclusive of error. Margins of error around the estimates increase, the further into the future forecasts are made. Overweight is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of between 25 and 29.9. Obese is defined as having a BMI of 30 or more.
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