Obesity is rivalling smoking as a cause of cancer, responsible for more cases of bowel, kidney, ovarian and liver cancer than cigarettes, according to the UK’s leading cancer charity.
Smoking is still the biggest cause of cancer, but Cancer Research UK (CRUK) has warned that government action to tackle obesity is vital, because it is a significant factor in 13 different types of cancer. Obese people now outnumber smokers by two to one.
Michelle Mitchell, the charity’s chief executive, 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.”
Excess weight causes about 1,900 more cases of bowel cancer than smoking in the UK each year, said CRUK. There are also 1,400 more cases of kidney cancer caused by excess weight than by smoking each year, 460 more ovarian cancers and 180 more cases of liver cancer.
The charity issued its warning as figures were released by Public Health England and the Office for National Statistics showing the decline in smoking in the UK. There has been a big reduction in the overall smoking rate to 14.7% last year, down five percentage points from 2011. Across the UK, 26% of the adult population were classified as obese in 2016, while 40% of men and 30% of women were overweight.
Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, said: “Although cancer survival is at a record high, this significant progress is in danger of being undone by the fast-growing epidemic of obesity, given excess weight is linked to 13 types of cancer.
“This study is further proof that obesity is the new smoking, and the NHS can’t win the ‘battle against the bulge’ on its own; families, food businesses and government all need to play their part if we’re to avoid copying America’s damaging and costly example.”