Cancer prevention at the population level: Policies to prevent and treat obesity


Session type:

Susan Jebb1
1University of Oxford


Today one in ten children starting school and one in four adults are obese. Excess weight is a major risk factor for diabetes and heart disease through its association with insulin resistance, raised blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol. Obesity is now also recognised as the leading modifiable cause of cancer for non-smokers, primarily through its metabolic effects on sex hormones, adipokines, growth factors and inflammatory pathways. The totality of the evidence from mechanistic studies, prospective cohort studies and following weight loss interventions supports a causal relationship between excess weight and cancers at multiple (though not all) sites. Identifying effective interventions to prevent and treat obesity will be crucial to reducing the incidence of new cancers as well as bringing wider public health benefits.

The causes of the recent rise in obesity are grounded in our modern lives and this can lead to a pessimistic view of the opportunities for change. However the success of public health policies in other areas demonstrates the potential for interventions at the population level to shape the environment to actively enable healthier lifestyles. In addition, there is now good evidence that specific action to support individuals to choose healthier diets and to become more physically active can encourage successful weight loss at a scale to bring population benefits.

This presentation will outline the current policy landscape, including new plans for a soft drink industry levy and reformulation to reduce the sugar content of foods. It will draw on the Government Foresight report on obesity to consider what else needs to be done to create a comprehensive strategy and accelerate progress to prevent and treat obesity.