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Obese people outnumber smokers two to one

Excess weight is the leading cause of four types of cancer

People who are obese now outnumber people who smoke two to one in the UK, figures show.

Almost a third of UK adults are obese and although smoking is still the nation’s biggest preventable cause of cancer and carries a much higher risk of the disease, being overweight or obese trumps smoking as the leading cause of four different types of cancer. 

According to Cancer Research UK, excess weight causes around 1,900 more cases of bowel cancer than smoking in the UK each year. The same pattern is true of cancer in the kidneys (1,400 more cases caused by excess weight than by smoking each year in the UK), ovaries (460) and liver (180). 

Extra body fat sends out signals that can tell cells to divide more often and, similar to smoking, can cause damage that builds up over time and raises the risk of cancer.

Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said although our children could be a smoke-free generation, a devastating record high for childhood obesity has been reached.

“Scientists have so far identified that obesity causes 13 types of cancer but the mechanisms aren’t fully understood. So further research is needed to find out more about the ways extra body fat can lead to cancer,” she added.

The charity wants the government to act on its ambition to halve childhood obesity rates by 2030 and introduce a 9pm watershed for junk food adverts on TV and online, alongside other measures such as restricting promotional offers on unhealthy food and drinks.