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UK Cancer Group Warns That Obesity Is Overtaking Smoking as Disease Driver

Alison Rodriguez
Although smoking cigarettes is thought of as being the most prevalent—yet preventable—cancer risk, new data suggests people who are obese now outnumber people who smoke, with excess weight causing more cases of certain cancers than smoking in the United Kingdom.
Although smoking cigarettes is thought of as being the most prevalent—yet preventable—cancer risk, new data suggests people who are obese now outnumber people who smoke, with excess weight causing more cases of certain cancers than smoking in the United Kingdom.

According to recent data, nearly one-third of UK adults are obese and overweight; the condition now holds a greater risk of developing 4 types of cancer compared with those who smoke.

"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,” explained Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive. "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 the United Kingdom, excess weight causes around 1900 more cases of bowel cancer than smoking each year. Similarly, there are 1400 more cases of kidney cancer, 460 more cases of ovarian cancer, and 180 more of liver cancer each year.

Comparatively, in the United States, in 2011 to 2014 nearly 70% of adults were overweight or obese and more than one-third were obese, according to the National Cancer Institute. In the United States obesity is linked to increased risks of endometrial cancer, esophageal adenocarcinoma, gastric cardia cancer, liver cancer and others. Additionally, smoking has steadily declined in the United States since the mid-1960s, while obesity has been rising, according to America’s Health Rankings.

"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,” noted Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert. "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."

Cancer Research UK has launched a campaign to increase the awareness of the cancer risk due to obesity. The campaign suggests that policy change can help people form healthier habits and hopes the government will act on this initiative to reduce childhood obesity rates by 50% by 2030.

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