LONDON — Could that extra serving of ice cream or bag of chips be just as harmful as a pack of cigarettes? Researchers have discovered that obese people outnumber smokers in the United Kingdom by a two-to-one ratio. On the bright side, this means that less and less people are smoking. However, obesity is causing higher rates of certain types of cancer than smoking.
Almost a third of U.K. adults are obese. To be clear, smoking is still the largest cause of preventable cancer among the British, but researchers with Cancer Research U.K. say being overweight or obese is the leading cause of four types of cancer. These cancers are bowel, kidney, ovarian, and liver.
Obesity causes approximately 1,900 more cases of bowel cancer each year in the U.K. than smoking. Additionally, there are 1,400 more obesity-related kidney cancer diagnoses, 460 more ovary cancer diagnoses, and 180 more liver cancer diagnoses.
According to the study’s authors, excess body fat sends out signals instructing the body’s cells to divide more often, significantly raising the risk of developing cancer. Cancer Research U.K. has already launched an awareness campaign themselves to fight this growing problem, but say much more needs to be done, especially when it comes to children.
“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,” explains Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research U.K.’s chief executive, in a release.“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.”
Experts say additional research is needed to fully understand all the ways that obesity can lead to cancer, as scientists still haven’t discovered the full spectrum of ways excess fat impacts cellular activity. Besides just research, the charity suggests placing a 9 P.M. ban on junk food advertisements for television and online mediums.
“The world we live in doesn’t make it easy to be healthy and we need Government action to fix that, but people can also make changes themselves; small things like swapping junk food for healthier options and keeping active can all add up to help reduce cancer risk.” says Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research U.K.’s prevention expert.