Overweight and obesity could become the first preventable causes of cancer in the UK ahead of smoking, according to a study released Friday by a British research institute.
The study shows that tobacco was responsible for more than 54,000 cancer cases in the UK in 2015 (latest available figures), or 15% of cases, followed by overweight, causing 22,800 cancers, or 6, 3% of cases. Obesity and overweight can cause various types of cancer, including bowel, breast, uterine or kidney cancers.
“If we’re not careful, obesity could supplant tobacco,” said Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, the largest independent cancer research institute in the UK. “I think we will see this change over the next 20 years,” he says.
“Obesity poses a huge threat to public health, and things will get worse if nothing is done,” says Linda Bauld, a researcher at the institute. “The government needs to build on the success of smoking prevention campaigns to reduce the number of overweight cancers.”
For Katrina Brown, the author of the study, it is necessary to “change attitudes towards obesity”. “People perceive being big as more and more normal,” she says. “It’s a change of cultural norm, and we need to convey the message about the dangers it poses to health.”
In total, Cancer Research UK estimates that nearly 4 out of 10 cancers (37.7% of cancers, or 135,500 cases in 2015) could be avoided by changing behaviors.
After smoking and overweight, the institute, among other things, identifies as preventable causes of cancer exposure to the sun (13,600 cases in 2015), alcohol consumption (11,900 cases), diets low in fiber (11,700 cases), and atmospheric pollution (3,600 cases).