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Hundreds of thousands of children at risk of junk food cancer diagnosis




Khan announces junk food advert ban on London transport

More than one third of 10 and 11-year-olds – 700,000 – are obese or overweight. One in 20 cancer cases is caused by excess weight, with fat linked to 13 different types of tumour. The crisis has prompted Cancer Research UK (CRUK) to warn that moves to water down future anti-fat laws would render the Government’s “war on cancer” meaningless. Michelle Mitchell, charity chief executive, said: “If the Prime Minister is serious then I urge him to press ahead with restrictions on junk food advertising and promotions as these measures are critical to reducing obesity – the second biggest cause of cancer after smoking.

“The Government shouldn’t champion the diagnosis and treatment of cancer on the one hand, while undermining measures to prevent it with the other. The Government must take action now on reducing obesity.”

Cancers of breast, bowel, pancreas, oesophagus, gallbladder, womb, ovaries, kidney, liver, upper stomach, blood, brain and thyroid are all linked to obesity.

No age group is immune to the weight crisis but medics are horrified that the National Child Measurement Programme ranked 41 per cent of Year 6 pupils as obese or overweight in 2020-21 – up from 31.6 per cent in 2006-07 – with 6.3 per cent deemed severely obese.

From October, laws will restrict offers on foods high in fat, sugar and salt and ban promotions such as free refills of sugary drinks.

The crackdown will also bar buy-one-get-one-free offers and rule out junk food advertising before 9pm.

But there is concern lobbying from some food industry sources may see plans scaled back and CRUK fears ministers “may now be wavering”.


Food deals can encourage unhealthy habits (Image: Getty)

Obesity-driven type 2 diabetes is one of the fastest growing health emergencies, costing the NHS £15billion a year. Four million have it and that toll is set to hit 5.5 million by 2030.

One in 10 over 40s have the condition which can lead to blindness, amputations, heart disease and kidney failure, with a case every three minutes. Another million have type 2 undiagnosed, with 12.5 million at higher risk due to chronically unhealthy lifestyles.

CRUK wants the Government to stick to its guns and restrict the promotion of junk food and drinks. It also called on the administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to enact similar measures.

Campaigners want media regulator Ofcom to review every year the use and impact of different and emerging types of advertising – including brands’ social media – and to ban tempting promotional techniques such as cartoons, characters and social media influencers.

It also seeks a Cabinet-level committee on health improvement to oversee progress.

One in three children in England are fat on leaving primary school, with pupils from deprived areas more than twice as likely to be obese. Children that overweight are five times more likely to suffer as adults, increasing their risk of type 2 diabetes as well as cancer, heart and liver disease in a timebomb health alert.

junk food

Excessive weight can cause a cancer diagnosis (Image: Getty)

Dr Karol Sikora, Daily Express columnist and former director of the World Health Organisation’s cancer programme, said: “You are what you eat. If it’s processed junk, our health will reflect that. Reduce fatty foods and red meat consumption, but increase fibre intake and the amount of fruit and vegetables. That’s not to say we can never enjoy a treat or two, but there needs to be a balance.

“Some 28 per cent of adults in England are obese and a further 36 per cent are overweight. The health consequences of being dangerously overweight are vast. Increased risk of developing cancer is part of that.”

Millions of people appear to be baffled by contradictory messages, gorging on foods which they think are healthy but which cause significant harm. Few know a small bowl of white rice has around 10 teaspoons of sugar; a serving of average breakfast cereal has eight.Starch is broken down into sugar by digestion but in people with type 2, insulin – which regulates blood sugar – fails and sufferers are resistant to its effects.

Blood sugar starts to rise, damaging circulation and blood vessels, causing inflammation. Sufferers become overweight as livers are clogged with fat.

The fresh cancer warning comes after the Obesity Health Alliance – a coalition of organisations including the British Heart Foundation and the Royal College of Physicians – urged Boris Johnson not to dilute anti-fat laws.

Boss Caroline Cerny said the PM vowed to make healthier choices easier: “Rowing back on these promises now would leave him with the legacy as the leader who cancelled laws which would prevent thousands of children from developing obesity.”

The Department of Health and Social Care said: “Obesity is one of the biggest health issues. We are currently delivering an ambitious programme of work that seeks to create a healthier environment and to support everyone to live a healthy life.”


Comment by Charles Swanton

Over the past 15 years we have seen huge strides in tackling the biggest cause of cancer – smoking.


Education on smoking has helped fight health related issues (Image: Getty)

This has involved a sustained national policy effort, including measures to decrease the appeal of tobacco such as the introduction of the smoking ban in 2007, the standardisation of cigarette packaging in 2017 and the support given by local services to help people quit.

Smoking is now at record lows, although further action is still required, especially for disadvantaged groups.

For one of the next major causes of cancer – obesity – there are tough decisions to be made.

Obesity is predicted to eclipse smoking as the biggest cause of cancer in women by 2043. And obesity rates in children, which were already high, are rising even further.

As the Government seeks to “level up”, this represents a prime opportunity to help those most affected. We know young people from more deprived backgrounds are more likely to consume a range of less healthy products and suffer from obesity.


Obesity related cancer diagnosis is expected to eclipse smoking (Image: Getty)

Obesity is a complex issue with many causes, but we know one of the biggest influences is the barrage of advertising that people face.

A study by Cancer Research UK shows young people (11-19 year-olds) find marketing has a direct influence on their food choices and purchases.

These marketing pressures add up, both financially and in terms of weight gain. Endless adverts and promotions for junk food drive cravings and normalise bad diets.

The Government agrees and was committed to introducing laws that would restrict junk food adverts on TV to after the 9pm watershed, introduce a total ban of online adverts and curb multi-buy promotions of unhealthy food.

sajid javid

Sajid Javid declared ‘a war on cancer’ (Image: Getty)

However, despite these measures having public support, there have been reports that under intense lobbying from industry the Government may now be wavering.

This is despite Health Secretary Sajid Javid having declared a “war on cancer” and the Conservative Party’s commitment to levelling up on health inequalities.

If the Government is serious about reaching its target to halve childhood obesity by 2030, to tackle preventable cancers and support those most in need, it needs to have the courage to show leadership on this issue.

Now is the time for the Prime Minister to commit to tackling obesity.

• Charles Swanton is Chief Clinician, Cancer Research UK



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