Obesity overtakes smoking as risk factor for four common cancers

overweight man's hand on belly, obesity concept
overweight man's hand on belly, obesity concept

Obesity has overtaken smoking as a risk factor for some types of cancer – including four of the most common.

We often hear the phrase “smoking kills”, but Cancer Research UK are highlighting the danger of excess weight as obese people now outnumber smokers by two to one.

In cases of bowel, kidney, ovarian and liver cancer, obesity is a bigger risk factor than cigarettes, according to the latest research from the charity.

For instance, obesity causes 1,900 more cases of bowel cancer a year than smoking. For kidney cancer, it’s 1,400 more cases; 460 more ovarian cancer cases, and 180 more liver cancer cases.

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The research has come as figures released by Public Health England and the Office for National Statistics show a substantial reduction in smoking in the UK.

The overall smoking rate was down to 14.9% last year, down five percentage points from 2011.

“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,” said Michelle Mitchell, the charity’s chief executive, in a statement.

“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.”

It comes amid a “fat-shaming” row over Cancer Research UK’s new billboard campaign.

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Some people on Twitter have called for the charity to remove the billboards, which they said “incite fat hatred”.

However, others have praised the organisation for tackling the sensitive topic, saying it’s time to address the health impact of obesity.

Obesity is thought to affect around one in every four adults in the UK, and roughly one in five children aged 10 to 11.

Earlier this year, a debate broke out over whether obesity should be labelled as a disease or a lifestyle choice, after the Royal College of Physicians called for obesity to be reclassified as a the latter.