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Three in 4 don't know obesity causes cancer

September 08, 2016

THREE out of four (75 per cent) people in the UK are unaware of the link between obesity and cancer, according to a new Cancer Research UK report* published today (Friday).

The nationwide survey found that people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are less likely to know about the link **. And men are less likely than women to be aware of the increased risk of cancer caused by obesity.

As well as general ignorance about obesity and cancer, the survey showed that more than three-quarters (78 per cent) of those asked didn't know obesity was linked specifically to ovarian cancer.

More than two thirds (69 per cent) didn't know there was a link with breast cancer and more than half (53 per cent) didn't know pancreatic cancer was linked to obesity ***.

There was better awareness of the link with bowel cancer with 60 per cent of those surveyed knowing the association and 55 per cent of people linked obesity with liver cancer.

Being overweight or obese is the single biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking and is linked to an estimated 18,100 cancer cases each year in the UK. Being overweight or obese is linked to 10 types of cancers, including breast, bowel, womb and oesophageal.

A recent report by Cancer Research UK and the UK Health Forum estimated that if current trends of being overweight and obese continued, there would be a further 670,000 cancer cases over the next 20 years. The report also found that the number of obese people would be higher among lower income groups ****.

Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK's head of health information, said: "A quarter of all UK adults are estimated to be obese, and this has a real impact on their risk of developing cancer. Eating a healthy balanced diet and becoming more active can help people to keep a healthy weight. And encouraging children and teenagers to do the same can help them keep to a healthy weight later on in life."

Alison Cox, director of prevention at Cancer Research UK, said: "Cancer isn't at the forefront of people's minds when talking about obesity and that's really concerning. Few understand that excess weight increases the risk of several cancers, including some of the most common such as breast cancer.

"It's the Government's responsibility to inform the public of the link and also to take action to tackle the obesity epidemic, starting with the health of the nation's children. It's great the Government's childhood obesity plan includes a sugary drinks tax, but it's not enough to curb the rising tide of ill-health.

"The Government acknowledges that marketing junk food to kids is a problem and has removed these adverts during children's programming. We also need to see these restrictions during family viewing time before 9pm if we want to make a difference to children's health."
The study was conducted by the Policy Research Centre for Cancer Prevention at Cancer Research UK.

For media enquiries contact Stephanie McClellan in the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 5314 or, out of hours, on 07050 264 059.

Notes to editor:

* Public knowledge of the link between obesity and cancer. Hooper L, Anderson A, Forster A, Rosenberg G & Vohra J (2015) Public knowledge of the link between obesity and cancer. Cancer Research UK. Data collection took place 24th February - 8th March 2016 and provide a sample of 3293 adults that was representative of the UK population (England, Wales Scotland and Northern Ireland), based on age, gender, region and education.

** Gender (n=3293) n (% aware of link)
Men (n=1604) 382 (23.8)
Women (n=1690) 455 (26.9)

Socioeconomic status (n=3293)
AB (n=724) 218 (30.1)
C1 (n=988) 285 (28.8)
C2 (n=494) 95 (19.2)
DE (n=1087) 239 (22.0)

*** Cancer type Total n=3293 (%) correctly answered that there is a link Male n=1604 (%) correctly answered that there is a link Female n=1689 (%) correctly answered that there is a link # of cases per year linked to obesity

Bowel 1977 (60.1) 966 (60.3) 1011 (59.9) 5,400
Liver 1817 (55.2) 896 (55.9) 921 (54.5)
Pancreatic 1577 (47.30) 773 (48.2) 784 (46.4) 1,100
Kidney 1458 (44.3) 748 (46.6) 710 (42) 2,400
Gall Bladder 1361 (41.3) 596 (37.2) 765 (34.3) 150
Bladder 1068 (32.4) 575 (35.9) 493 (29.2)
Oesophageal 1028 (31.2) 489 (30.5) 539 (31.9) 1,800
Breast 1025 (31.1) 451 (28.1) 574 (34) 4,300
Advanced prostate 905 (27.5) 492 (30.7) 413 (24.8)
Womb 709 (21.5) 340 (21.2) 369 (21.8) 2,900
Ovarian 724 (22) 349 (21.8) 375 (22.2)

Cases calculated by the Statistical Information Team at Cancer Research UK, the estimated population attributable fractions overweight and obesity for cancers in the UK in 2011 using Parkin, D. M. & Boyd, L. Cancers attributable to tobacco, radiation ionising and occupational exposure in the UK in 2010. British Journal of Cancer 105 Suppl, S34-7 (2011).

Cancer type Total n=3293 (%) correctly answered there is not a link Male n=1604 (%) correctly answered there is not a link Female n=1689 (%) correctly answered there is not a link

Stomach (no strong evidence) 150 (4.6) 58 (3.6) 92 (5.4)
Cervical (no strong evidence) 743 (22.6) 291 (18.2) 452 (26.7)


About Cancer Research UK
  • Cancer Research UK is the world's leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research.
  • Cancer Research UK's pioneering work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.
  • Cancer Research UK receives no government funding for its life-saving research. Every step it makes towards beating cancer relies on every pound donated.
  • Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival in the UK double in the last forty years.
  • Today, 2 in 4 people survive their cancer for at least 10 years. Cancer Research UK's ambition is to accelerate progress so that by 2034, 3 in 4 people will survive their cancer for at least 10 years.
  • Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.
  • Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.
For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 0300 123 1022 or visit Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Cancer Research UK

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