Obese people turn a blind eye to health risks

Cancer Research UK

More than a quarter of obese and overweight people do not want to lose weight and many more are unaware of the benefits brought by a healthy lifestyle, a new survey by Cancer Research UK reveals..

More than half of the 4000 men and women surveyed were overweight or obese. But 87 per cent of obese people and 32 per cent of overweight people failed to identify their correct weight category.

Being obese or overweight increases cancer risk. But 71 per cent of those at risk because of their weight did not know of the cancer connection.

Cancer Research UK has joined forces with the charity Weight Concern to develop Ten Top Tips - a set of weight management guidelines that can be incorporated into everyday routines without radical lifestyle change. The scientifically-based programme involves adopting ten simple steps and using a weekly checklist over eight weeks to monitor progress and help reinforce the new habits.

Nearly 50 per cent of obese and overweight people did not believe that eating healthily could help reduce cancer risk; almost two thirds (64 per cent) were unaware that regular exercise could reduce risk; more than 80 per cent did not know the importance of maintaining a healthy body weight and almost 80 per cent failed to recognise the importance of moderation when drinking alcohol to reduce cancer risk.

More than 4000 men and women from across the United Kingdom were interviewed by BMRB to investigate perceptions and attitudes to carrying extra weight and knowledge of the associated risk of cancer.

The new survey coincides with the launch of the second year of Cancer Research UK’s Reduce the Risk campaign. Reduce the Risk aims to raise awareness of the avoidable risks of cancer and highlight ways to reduce this risk. Ten Top Tips form a key element of this year’s campaign.

Being obese or overweight is one of the most significant preventable causes of cancer in non-smokers yet rates of obesity are increasing. Obesity is linked with an increased risk of bowel, kidney, oesophageal and stomach cancers, as well as cancer of the womb and breast cancer in post-menopausal women.

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s worrying to think that people are in denial about their weight. People who are carrying extra weight face significant health risks including cancer.

“Obesity is one of the biggest known preventable causes of cancer for those who don’t smoke. These results show far too many of those at greatest risk are choosing to ignore their weight. They are unaware of their increased risk of cancer and unaware of many of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

“The Reduce the Risk campaign offers people health messages and practical advice they can use to change unhealthy habits for healthy ones. With support and information, the quarter of obese and overweight people who do not wish to lose weight will hopefully join the majority who would like to.”

Professor Jane Wardle, director of Cancer Research UK’s Health Behaviour Unit said: “In today’s world of high fat food and less active lifestyles, quick-fix diets are unlikely to provide a long-term solution to the obesity epidemic. The Ten Top Tips programme is specifically designed to help people develop routines that are easy to follow and become ‘automatic’ over time. If followed over the long term they will help people lose weight and keep it off.”

Caroline Swain, Executive Director of Weight Concern said, “The survey findings highlight a widespread lack of concern about obesity. Education and support are a vital component in tackling the alarming rise in obesity in this country. By working together and sharing our combined expertise, Cancer Research UK and Weight Concern are offering people practical and simple ways to control their weight and reduce their risk of cancer.”

The set of scientifically-based guidelines is designed to help people adopt healthy habits that can be sustained for long-term weight maintenance. Based on psychological theories of habit formation, the easy-to-follow tips can be incorporated into people’s everyday routines without major lifestyle change. A key part of successfully losing weight on the programme is using a simple ‘tick sheet’ tracking tool which accompanies the tips and has been shown to help behaviour change.

The tips themselves are as follows (the tick sheet is available from the Reduce the Risk website www.reducetherisk.org.uk):

1) Keep to your meal routine Try to eat at roughly the same times each day, whether this is two or five times a day.

2) Go reduced fat Choose reduced fat versions of foods such as dairy products, spreads and salad dressings where you can. Use them sparingly as some can still be high in fat.

3) Walk off the weight Walk 10,000 steps (equivalent to 60-90 minutes moderate activity) each day. You can use a pedometer to help count the steps. You can break-up your walking throughout the day.

4) Pack a healthy snack If you snack, choose a healthy option such as fresh fruit or low calorie yogurts instead of chocolate or crisps.

5) Look at the labels Be careful about food claims. Check the fat and sugar content on food labels when shopping and preparing food.

6) Caution with your portions Don’t heap food on your plate (except vegetables). Think twice before having second helpings.

7) Up on your feet Break up your sitting time. Stand up for ten minutes out of every hour.

8) Think about your drinks Choose water or sugar-free squashes. Unsweetened fruit juice is high in natural sugar so limit it to 1 glass per day (200ml/ 1/3 pint). Alcohol is high in calories. Try to limit the amount you drink.

9) Focus on your food Slow down. Don’t eat on the go or while watching TV. Eat at a table if possible.

10) Don’t forget your 5 a day Eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day (400g in total).

ENDS

For media enquiries please contact Paul Thorne in the Press Office on 020 7061 8352 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.

Notes to Editor

Visit www.reducetherisk.org.uk to request a free leaflet containing the Ten Top Tips programme. You will find more information about the Ten Top Tips and further healthy choices that could reduce your risk of cancer.

The Ten Top Tips were compiled using the latest scientific evidence for individual behaviour change. The Tips were evaluated along with the associated tracking tool by a group of volunteers over an 8-week period in 2005. The tracking tool is week long calendar allowing participants to tick off the tips that are successfully completed, helping to reinforce new healthy habits. For further details of the evidence base and trial, visit www.weightconcern.org.uk.

For more about cancer visit Cancer Research UK’s patient information website www.cancerhelp.org.uk

Face to face omnibus survey of 4254 UK men and women conducted by BMRB in September 2005.

Body Mass Index was calculated by asking each participant their height and weight and these responses were cross referenced to their answers for each of the other survey questions. Evidence suggests that people tend to underestimate their weight and overestimate their height.

The most recent Department of Health figures for BMI is the Health Survey for England 2003 takes peoples actual height and weight measurements and showed that 59 per cent of women and 66 per cent of men are overweight or obese.

BMI value is calculated by dividing body weight (in kilograms) by the square of height (in metres).

  • under 18.5 is underweight
  • 18.5-25 is healthy weight
  • 25-30 is overweight
  • 30-35 is obese
  • over 35 is very obese

Half of all cancers could be prevented by changes to lifestyle. Cancer Research UK's Reduce the Risk campaign (www.reducetherisk.org.uk) highlights five important ways you can lower your cancer risk:

Stop smoking

This is the best present you will ever give yourself. We know it's hard but support and effective treatments are available to help you quit smoking or chewing tobacco. Give up now and greatly reduce your risk of cancer.

Stay in shape

Cut your cancer risk by keeping a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of several cancers. Try to balance the energy you take in from food with the energy you burn through activity. Just 30 minutes five days a week of moderate exercise such as brisk walking, gardening or swimming will keep you healthy.

Eat and drink healthily

Limit alcohol and maintain a healthy diet to reduce your risk. Alcohol increases your risk of certain cancers, more so if you also smoke. Try to limit the amount you drink. Aim for a healthy balanced diet, including plenty of fruit and vegetables - at least five portions a day.

Be SunSmart

Protect yourself from the sun and harmful UV. Cover up and take care not to burn. Watch moles for any changes and get unusual skin blemishes checked out by the doctor. Avoid using sunbeds.

Look after number one

Know your body, be aware of any changes and contact your doctor if you notice anything unusual. Go for screening when invited - it could save your life.

Body Mass Index of all UK respondents (all results are percentages)
%
Underweight 2
Healthy weight 41
Overweight 30
Obese 20
Not stated 6

What best describes your bodyweight?

%

Healthy weight respondents

Overweight respondents

Obese/V Obese

Overweight/Obese/V Obese combined

Underweight

8

1

1

1

Normal weight

76

31

17

25

Overweight

15

68

69

68

Obese

0

0

13

5

Would you like to lose weight?

%

Healthy weight

Overweight

Obese / V Obese

Overweight/Obese/V Obese combined

Yes

31

69

80

74

No

69

30

20

26

What do you think you can personally do to reduce your risk of cancer?
%
Healthy weight respondents Overweight respondents Obese/V obese Overweight/Obese/V Obese combined
Eat healthily

57

53

52

53

Take regular exercise

39

38

33

36

Drink moderately

24

22

19

21

Maintain a healthy weight

16

18

21

19

Cancer Research UK

  • Cancer Research UK's vision is to conquer cancer through world-class research.
  • The charity works alone and in partnership with others to carry out research into the biology and causes of cancer, to develop effective treatments, improve the quality of life for cancer patients, reduce the number of people getting cancer and to provide authoritative information on cancer. Cancer Research UK is the world's leading independent charity dedicated to research on the causes, treatment and prevention of cancer.
  • For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 020 7009 8820.
  • For further information about Reduce the Risk please visit the Recude the Risk website.
  • For more information about different types of cancer, diagnosis and treatment for patients and their families, visit Cancer Research UK’s patient information website Cancer Help UK.
  • Weight Concern

    Weight Concern is a UK charity committed to researching and developing effective, evidence-based treatments for childhood and adult obesity. The charity also provides education and training for health professionals in techniques to help support people who want to control their weight.

    Weight Concern has a leading reputation in the field of overweight and obesity and is staffed by clinical psychologists, clinical and research dietitians and behavioural experts.

    For further information about Weight Concern’s work, please visit our website or contact us by e-mail enquiries@weightconcern.org.uk.

    Please note we are unable to provide individual weight loss advice.

    Media enquiries about Weight Concern only please contact Caroline Swain on 020 7679 1796.