Building a weight of evidence to prevent cancer in later life
Session type: Oral
Theme: Epidemiology and prevention
Obesity is the largest preventable risk factor for cancer after smoking. Being overweight as an adult is linked to 10 cancer types, and overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults. Recent data shows that around one in three children leave primary school overweight or obese, with the most deprived children twice as likely to be so. A comprehensive evidence-based childhood obesity strategy is vital in order to prevent obesity related cancers later in life.
A multidisciplinary research strategy was developed at Cancer Research UK to build a body of evidence that can directly influence government policy making in obesity. This included a quantitative study to investigate obesity and cancer awareness in the general population; a modelling study to predict future obesity related cancer cases; and qualitative studies to explore obesity-linked behaviours in children.
Cancer was not at the forefront of people’s minds when thinking about obesity, with only 26% showing an unprompted awareness of the link. However the projected impact of obesity on cancer is high: if current trends continue it will lead to a further 670,000 cases over the next 20 years. When looking specifically at childhood obesity, it was found that junk food marketing was associated with parental pester power and can override nutritional knowledge.
These research studies formed an integral part of the current Cancer Research UK campaign on obesity. The first stage addressed the poor knowledge of obesity and cancer in the general population. The modelling results were a key part of this, alongside existing data on the mechanisms behind the causal relationship of obesity and cancer. Following this, during the development of the government’s childhood obesity strategy, the childhood obesity studies demonstrated to policy makers the importance of taking action to limit advertising exposure in children.