Junk Free TV - Let's Tackle Children's Obesity

How does obesity in childhood affect cancer risk as an adult?
Being overweight or obese is the single biggest preventable cause of cancer in the UK after smoking, and is linked to 13 different types of the disease.

Research has already shown that a child who is obese is five times more likely to be obese in adulthood – putting them at an increased risk of developing cancer.

But shocking new statistics show that the average teenager in the UK drinks the equivalent of a bathtub full of sugary drinks every year. This kind of junk food consumption is causing an epidemic of ill health across the nation.

Right now, one in three children in the UK leaving primary school are overweight or obese. And worryingly, children from the most deprived groups in England are more than twice as likely to be overweight or obese as those from the least. Children’s obesity is becoming more than just a health issue – it’s also worsening the inequalities among today’s children. It’s time the Government took action.


This issue can’t be solved by a silver bullet – but there is something we can do right now.

We know that children who are exposed to junk food adverts are more likely to eat unhealthy food. Although television channels in the UK already aren't allowed to show unhealthy adverts around children's programmes, they can still show them around family programmes that parents and children across the country settle down to watch together.

One analysis found that in 2015 over a million children watched junk food ads during X-Factor. If advertising was removed from all programmes shown before 9pm, it would more than halve children’s exposure to this advertising.

Blog impact

We need to tell every MP about the new research showing the scale of children’s obesity and explain to them that restricting junk food TV advertising before 9pm is a key step to protecting our children’s health. We can’t let childhood obesity slip off the political agenda.

Help us tell one more MP why we need to protect children – Tweet your MP today.

Tweet your MP


Want to know more?

These questions may also answer what you’re looking for, but if not please email campaigning@cancer.org.uk.

On Tuesday 5 July we had a day of action in Parliament where nearly 100 of our Cancer Campaigns Ambassadors came to Westminster to meet with their MPs to try and convince them to restrict junk food ads. We also launched our Ad Brake report, which shows that despite current regulations junk food ads still influence children’s behaviours.

In August the Government missed an opportunity to give children the best start in life in their disappointing Childhood Obesity Plan. If we’re going to protect the next generation from diseases like cancer, and reduce the crippling burden of obesity on the NHS, we need the ‘game-changing’ strategy the Government promised a year ago.

Following the release of the Government’s plan, we transformed a shop front in East London into an XL school uniform shop. We wanted to show that larger school uniforms could be the new norm, and highlight the staggeringly high level of children’s obesity. Since then, we’ve continued to call on the Government to face up to the epidemic of rising ill health facing the UK. 

Absolutely. Removing junk food marketing on TV before 9pm can only be introduced across the UK as a result of action in Westminster. The Scottish Government and Welsh Assemblies have shown a willingness to tackle junk food marketing on TV, so we really want them to keep the pressure up on Westminster to act. Demonstrating support across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be crucial to make the case for a TV ban to be introduced.

Obesity is linked to 13 types of cancer, and causes over 18,000 cases of the disease every year in the UK.

Being overweight can cause 13 types of cancer.

Find out more about how obesity causes cancer.

Overweight and obesity are measured by a person’s body mass index (BMI). BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by their height in metres squared. Overweight is defined as having a BMI between 25.0 and 29.9. Obesity is defined as having a BMI of 30 or over.

BMI = weight (in Kg) / height (in M2)

For children, it’s a bit more complicated because things like whether or not they have started puberty are also important. So their age is also taken into account and they BMI is converted into a ‘centile’, like those used on children’s growth charts.

Current evidence suggests that the more excess weight someone is carrying, the greater their risk of developing diseases linked to obesity such as cancer.

The term ‘junk food’ is commonly used to refer to any food or drink that’s high in fat, sugar or salt. The Food Standard Agency have a Nutrient Profiling Model that’s used to define the most unhealthy foods based on their ingredients. One of the uses for this model is deciding what can and can’t be advertised during children’s programmes.

Take Action


Help us tell one more MP why we need to protect children today.


Tweet your MP

Help us Scale Down Cancer in Scotland

Do you live in Scotland?

Find out how we're campaigning to make sure the Scottish Government delivers its own comprehensive obesity strategy.

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