Obesity: A Deadly Cancer Risk Factor Like Smoking

Nicky Broyd

July 04, 2019

It comes as no surprise that health campaigners would highlight obesity as a cause of certain cancers, but Cancer Research UK has gone a step further by comparing the risk to smoking.

Both are preventable cancer risk factors but smoking is more readily identified by the public.

The charity has produced cigarette-packet style billboards with 'obesity' where the tobacco company’s brand would have been.

Image Credit: Cancer Research UK

Call for Action

Carrying extra body fat causes extra division of cells with long-term damage increasing cancer risk.

Public health campaigns have helped smokers to quit and fewer younger people are taking up the habit. The charity said similar action was needed with obesity and promoting healthier lifestyles.

It repeated calls for a 9pm watershed for junk food adverts on TV as well as measures to restrict promotional offers on unhealthy food and drink.

The campaign launch coincided with prime ministerial candidate Boris Johnson saying he would review 'sin' taxes, such as the tax on sugary drinks.

He said more evidence was needed that the measures were effective, and that he believed such levies disproportionately affected poorer families.

That brought an official response from the Department of Health and Social Care that public health and obesity policies were, and would continue to be, evidence based.

Extrapolating Data

Cancer Research UK took population data for smoking, obesity, and cancer incidence to make its calculations.

Compared with smoking it says excess weight causes:

Furthermore, smokers are outnumbered by around 2 to 1 by those with obesity.

Around 29% of the UK population is classed as obese.

More than 1 in 5 children in school year 6 in England are obese.

In a statement, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, Michelle Mitchell, said: "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.

"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."


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.