Published on 3 July 2019

Rising obesity rates leading to a number of health complications, including cancers and type 2 diabetes.

The number of people in the UK who are obese is now estimated to be double the number of people who smoke, according to a new study.

A report published by Cancer Research UK has highlighted that being overweight can put people at risk of developing more cases of some cancers than smoking tobacco.

Cancer Research UK are now calling on the government to do more to help people reduce their risk of becoming obese and “end junk food ads to kids”.

Michelle Mitchell, Chief Executive at Cancer Research UK, 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.”

In addition to putting people at risk of developing some forms of cancer, people who are obese can also be at an increased risk of developing related health complicated including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

The Cancer Research UK report found there are around 14.9 million obese adults in the UK almost a third (29%) of the UK adult population.

A person holding a cigarette.

The report added that while smoking is still the nation’s biggest preventable cause of cancer and carries a much higher risk of developing the disease than obesity, the Cancer Research UK findings revealed that being overweight or obese was ahead of smoking as the leading cause of four different types of cancer.

Being overweight is estimated to cause around 1,900 more cases of bowel cancer than smoking in the UK each year.

Obese people are also at higher risk of developing cancer in the kidneys (1,400 more cases caused by excess weight than by smoking each year in the UK), ovaries (460) and liver (180).

Cancer Research UK has launched a nationwide campaign to increase awareness of the link between obesity and cancer.

Being obese can cause damage that builds up over time and raises the risk of cancer, as extra body fat sends out signals that can tell cells to divide more often, in a similar way to smoking.

The charity wants the Government to act on its ambition to halve childhood obesity rates by 2030 and introduce a 9pm watershed for junk food adverts on TV and online, alongside other measures such as restricting promotional offers on unhealthy food and drinks.

Professor Linda Bauld, Prevention Expert at Cancer Research UK, said: “There isn’t a silver bullet to reduce obesity, but the huge fall in smoking over the years – partly thanks to advertising and environmental bans – shows that Government-led change works. It was needed to tackle sky-high smoking rates, and now the same is true for obesity.

“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.”

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