One in three (29%) UK adults faces an increased risk of developing bowel, kidney, ovarian and liver case because they are obese, according to Cancer Research UK.
While smoking is still the UK’s biggest preventable cause of cancer and carries a much higher risk of the disease than obesity, the charity has warned that being overweight or obese is the leading cause of four different types of cancer and obese people now outnumber smokers two to one.
Its analysis of health survey data found excess weight causes around 1,900 more cases of bowel cancer than smoking every year, 1,400 more cases of cancer in the kidneys, 460 more ovarian cancer cases and 180 more cases of cancer in the liver.
Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “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.”
Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert, said declining smoking rates, partly due to advertising and environmental bans, has shown than government intervention has worked. Now, a similar agenda for change is needed to tackle obesity.
“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.”
Even though obesity itself is not a disability, employers might have to treat a worker with some of the conditions it causes as disabled within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010, suggested Alex Kiernan, partner at Loch Employment Law.
“Under the Act cancer is an automatically ‘deemed disability’, so the news that obesity is a bigger risk factor than smoking for a cancer diagnosis means employers would be wise to consider how they support the health and wellbeing of individuals in the workplace,” said Kiernan.
“Not only will workplace wellbeing programmes be a benefit to the health of the individual, they can minimise the risk of long term absences and the reduction in productivity as a result of ill-health.”