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03 July 2019
Obesity now causes more cases of cancer than smoking

Cancer Research UK's new anti-obesity campagin - Image credit: Cancer Research UK

Obesity now causes more cases of cancer than smoking

Obese Scots now outnumber smokers two to one and the excess weight causes more cases of cancer than smoking, Cancer Research UK has found.

Cancer Research UK estimates one third (29 per cent) of Scottish adults are obese, and being overweight or obese has trumped smoking as the leading cause of four different types of cancer.

Excess weight caused around 1,900 more cases of bowel cancer than smoking each year.

About 1,400 more cases of kidney cancer were caused by excess weight than smoking, followed by 460 ovarian cancer and 180 liver cancer cases.

However, the charity noted smoking remained the biggest preventable cause of cancer and carried a much higher risk of the disease than obesity.

This week Cancer Research UK launched a campaign to increase awareness about the link between obesity and cancer, with advertisements comparing smoking and obesity to show how government policy change could help people form healthier habits.

The charity said the campaign was not about comparing tobacco with food – it was about encouraging the UK government to implement better policy around obesity.

Cancer Research UK chief executive Michelle Mitchell said: “As smoking rates fall and obesity rates rise, we can clearly see the impact on a national health crisis when the government puts policies in place – and when it puts its head in the sand.”

“Our children could be a smoke-free generation, but we’ve hit a devastating record high for childhood obesity, and now we need urgent government intervention to end the epidemic. They still have a chance to save lives.

“Scientists have so far identified that obesity causes 13 types of cancer but the mechanisms aren’t fully understood. So further research is needed to find out more about the ways extra body fat can lead to cancer.”

Cancer Research UK prevention expert Linda Bauld said a “huge fall” in the rates of smoking was partly thanks to advertising and environmental bans, which proved “government-led change works”.

“The world we live in doesn’t make it easy to be healthy and we need government action to fix that, but people can also make changes themselves; small things like swapping junk food for healthier options and keeping active can all add up to help reduce cancer risk,” she said.

The charity is urging MSPs to restrict price promotions on junk food, including multi-buys like buy-one-get-one-free and three for two.

Forty per cent of all calories in Scotland were purchased as a result of price promotions, with 110 tonnes of sugar from unhealthy drinks and snacks bought on special offer every day, Cancer Research UK said.

It is also urging the UK Government to halve childhood obesity rates by 2030 and introduce a 9pm watershed for junk food adverts on TV and online.

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