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.
- Find out more about the scientific evidence behind these links.
Lose weight the healthy way
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.
Get more information
- Concerned about your children? Read our tips for parents on encouraging your children to keep a healthy weight, eat a balanced diet and stay active.
- Download or order our leaflet on weight, physical activity and cancer.
- Check your own Body Mass Index to see if you are a healthy weight for your height.
- Read about the causes of obesity, including the effects of genes – it’s a more complicated condition than you might think.
- Find out if our Cancer Awareness Roadshow is coming to a town near you, and hop on-board for some friendly advice and a BMI check.
- Read our tips on:
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.