In Brief

Obesity ‘causes more cases of some cancers than smoking’

Cancer Research UK accused of ‘fat shaming’ in its new campaign

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Being overweight now causes more cases of four common cancers in the UK than cigarettes, according to a major new study.

Cancer Research UK found that obesity is a bigger cause of bowel, kidney, ovarian and liver cancer than tobacco. It is warning that millions of people are at risk of cancer because of their weight and that obese people outnumber smokers two to one.

The Daily Telegraph points out that “Britain has the highest rates of obesity in Western Europe, with rates rising even faster than those in the United States”. 

However, the charity’s new billboard campaign highlighting the obesity cancer risk has been criticised for “fat-shaming”, the BBC says.

This is the second time this year the charity has faced such allegations. In February, comedian and activist Sofie Hagen took to Twitter to criticise a previous campaign.

The charity’s new ads, which feature billboards of a cigarette packet bearing the slogan “obesity is a cause of cancer too” is said to unfairly target overweight people. The billboards state that “like smoking, obesity puts millions of adults at greater risk of cancer.” The charity insists its campaign is not about blaming people for being overweight.

Cancer Research UK’s analysis shows that being overweight causes around 1,900 more cases of bowel cancer than smoking in the UK each year. It also causes 1,400 more cases of kidney cancer, 460 more cases of ovarian cancer and 180 cases of liver cancer.

In terms of numbers, smoking and obesity are currently moving in different directions. Data show that around one in three adults in the UK are now obese, while around a third more are overweight.

Meanwhile, there are now just 5.9m smokers in England, down by 1.8m since 2011. Indeed, Public Health England and the Office for National Statistics both predict that future generations will be “smoke free” as the number of smokers has fallen to its lowest level since records began.

Cancer Research UK is calling on ministers to halve childhood obesity rates by 2030 and introduce a 9pm watershed for junk food adverts on television and on the internet. It is also proposing to restrict promotional offers on unhealthy food and drinks.

Professor Linda Bauld, the charity’s prevention expert, 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.”

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