Together we will beat cancer

Nine out of ten kids risk growing up to have unhealthy amounts of fat in their bodies.

Nine out of ten kids risk growing up to have unhealthy amounts of fat in their bodies.

You may have seen some new ads cropping up in women’s weeklies around the country with our logo on them. The ads focus on how a child’s “eating and exercise habits” can affect their risk of diseases like cancer later on in life.

Here, we’ll talk about the campaign, the link behind body fat and cancer and where you can find more information.

About the campaign

The proportion of obese people in the UK has shot up over the past few decades. If current trends continue, experts have predicted that by 2050, nine out of ten adults will be either overweight or obese.

This means that nine out of ten of today’s children risk growing up to have unhealthy levels of body fat. That can have serious consequences for their health. We know, for example, that several cancers are more common in adults who are overweight or obese.

With that in mind, the Department of Health has given money to Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation and Diabetes UK to create a campaign to raise awareness of the link between childhood habits and health during adulthood.

The campaign is aimed very much at parents, not children themselves. It encourages parents to help their children set up healthy habits that will improve their health in the future. This is especially important since we know that overweight children are likely to grow up to be overweight adults.

It might be said that the adverts are over-the-top. But we and our colleagues at the other charities felt the need to ensure that the messages were strongly targeted to parents. To do that, we worked with focus groups of parents to develop the message, and they felt that the hard-hitting images felt that they were powerful, eye-opening and relevant to them.

Body weight and cancer – the evidence

Keeping a healthy body weight is one of the most important ways of reducing the risk of cancer after not smoking. It can help to prevent the following cancers:

  • bowel cancer
  • breast cancer (after the menopause)
  • womb cancer
  • kidney cancer
  • gullet (oesophageal) cancer
  • pancreatic cancer
  • gallbladder cancer

This list includes two of the most common cancers (breast and bowel cancer) and three types which are difficult to treat (pancreatic, gullet and gallbladder cancers).

All in all, about 13,000 cases of cancer could be avoided each year if everyone kept to a healthy bodyweight.

The link between fat and cancer may not be obvious. But that’s because we think of fat as an inert substance that sits in your body doing nothing. That’s not true – the fat cells in our bodies constantly churn out hormones, such as oestrogen and insulin.

These hormones affect the way our bodies behave. So overweight people have higher levels of these hormones than people with a healthy weight. These high levels can make cells, including potential cancer cells, divide faster than usual.

Lose weight the healthy way


Inactivity increases the risk of bowel and breast cancer

Most commercial weight-loss diets and products don’t work because they focus on quick-fix solutions or they have no scientific basis.

To help people lose weight safely and effectively, Cancer Research UK joined forces with the charity Weight Concern to develop a programme called Ten Top Tips.

The simple list of Tips is designed fit into your daily life and help you to gradually form healthier habits. They are based on the idea that you need long-term commitment to lose weight, but even small steps can make a big difference.

They are based on the best scientific evidence and they’ve even been tested in a research study.

You can get started by downloading or ordering the Ten Top Tips leaflet, as well as a wallet-sized shopping card to help you understand food labels.

Get more information

The research we fund

Cancer Research UK is a research organisation, funding world-class science with the aim of beating cancer.

One of our top scientists, Professor Jane Wardle, is looking into the various causes of obesity. Her group is studying obesity-related genes and how they affect our eating habits and food choices. They are looking at how our environment, our minds, our social backgrounds and our society conspire to encourage us to eat lots and do little. And they are looking at ways of helping people  avoid putting on weight in the first place.

We also provide funding for two of the world’s largest studies on nutrition and cancer – the EPIC study and the Million Women Study. Both have told us a lot about the ways in which body weight affects the risk of cancer.

Finally, we put money towards the National Prevention Research Initiative (NPRI). It’s a group of scientific organisations that supports research into preventing diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes. A lot of the research funded through the NPRI looks at obesity, physical inactivity and unhealthy diets, and ways of encouraging healthier lifestyles.

Talking to the Government

To tackle rising levels of obesity, we will help the Government to make the healthy choice the easier one. We will actively be lobbying the Government to:

  • Make food labels clearer, by using the Food Standards Agency’s traffic light system across the UK.
  • Restrict the advertising and marketing of junk food to children.
  • Promote policies that will encourage people to be more active, such as promoting walking and cycling routes.

There’s more about our work with Government in our Policy pages.

– Ed


Adrian October 31, 2010

The latest and best science shows that the old “saturated fat is bad” dogma is completely wrong and unscientific. Google PMID 20071648 if you want to see the evidence for this.

It is more likely that sugar, milk and wheat are causing cancer and heart disease. Dropping the cakes, sugar, orange juice and bread would seem a good idea and replacing them with unprocessed fish, meat (not overcooked or browned), vegetables and limited non-sugary fruit. Kids don’t naturally want cake, it’s their parents who want them to have cake. Kids are very adaptable and will eat healthy food with no prompting and no moaning if they are not used to eating processed sugary food.

Henry Scowcroft January 25, 2010

Phil, the evidence base for the cancer-causing effects of different types of fat in our diets is still emerging, so it’s hard to say how important saturated animal fat is, compared to other types of fat. Certainly the evidence around saturated fat and breast cancer is still controversial.

However, there’s a large body of evidence that shows that smoking is the number one preventable cause of cancer.

Phil Hall January 20, 2010

Cancer Research UK/British Heart Foundation/Diabetes UK, get your facts right. It’s well documented that the number 1 cause of cancer, heart attacks and strokes and diabetes is saturated animal fat and cholesterol from animals. All animal proteins promote cancer whereas plant proteins block cancer.

Mr. J. Generic March 10, 2009

I agree with your reasons.
But the choice of those pictures will create more mindless paranoia than warning the parents, in my opinion.

Ed Yong March 9, 2009

We aren’t saying that children shouldn’t play computer games or eat treats, and the campaign doesn’t tell parents that they should stop their children from doing so.

This campaign is about increasing awareness of the consequences of an unhealthy lifestyle and giving parents the information they need to make informed choices. Most of us gain weight very gradually over a long period of time. So even if children look healthy today, an unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle could increase their risk of being overweight or obese as an adult.

As we said in the post, we understand that the images are hard-hitting and controversial. But it was very important to be able to convey the right message to our target audience – parents. We tested these images, along with several others, with focus-groups of parents and they felt that these visuals were the most striking, engaging and relevant.

Mr. J. Generic March 9, 2009

I agree that we need to do something about our children.
But please, your ads are very ridicule.
A healty looking girl can’t eat a cake? A boy can’t play video-games?

You are like saying Cakes & Videogames = Death.
And this whole thing bashing the video-games is really anoying me, people are just using that as an excuse to bad parenting. Like movies and books, there is video-games for all ages and should be played in small amounts of time, watching tv for example is not bad too if you don’t sit too much time watching it.

YOU shoud concentrate about telling parents to take better care of theire children, to play with them outside for example, not using everything as an excuse on those ads to every humanity problem.

B. March 9, 2009

This site make me sink really! Now a kid cant eat a cake too? Or have fun at home since he cant go outside without be stolen or kidnapped…