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The results of an analysis published by Cancer Research UK today estimate that more than 21 million UK adults will be obese by 2040, which equates to almost 4 in 10 of the UK adult population (36%).

The analysis also suggests that if current overweight and obesity trends continue, the number of UK adults who are overweight or obese may exceed this, reaching around 7 in 10 people, or 42 million people, by 2040, 71% of the population.

Worryingly, the report also indicates that the number of people who are obese could overtake the number who are a healthy weight in the UK by 2040.

This ‘tipping point’ could happen as early as the late 2020s for the UK as a whole and England, with Northern Ireland following suit in the late 2030s. For Scotland and Wales, the crossover is not expected to happen before 2040.

Exacerbating inequalities

Today’s report follows a recent decision by the Government to delay its commitment to implement restrictions on junk food marketing and volume-based price promotions – a key pillar to its obesity strategy and commitment to tackling health disparities.

Michelle Mitchell, our chief executive, said: “These projections should serve as a wake-up call to the Government about the state of our nation’s health. Ministers mustn’t keep kicking the can down the road when it comes to tackling the obesity crisis – delaying measures that will lead to healthier food options.

“I urge them to revisit this decision and take bold action on obesity, the second biggest preventable risk factor for cancer in the UK.”

The report also suggests those experiencing higher levels of deprivation could suffer the most.

In England in 2019, 35% of people living in the most deprived areas were obese, and this is estimated to increase to almost half (46%) by 2040. In comparison, 22% of people living in the least deprived areas were obese in 2019 and this is estimated to increase to 25%.

These projections predict an increase in the relative deprivation gap for obesity prevalence between the least and most deprived quintiles by 13%, from 45% in 2019, to 58% by 2040 in England.

“The report shows a stark and growing difference between obesity rates in those that are least well off and most well off,’ Mitchell added.

“The upcoming Health Disparities White Paper offers the Government a real opportunity to level up the nation, and make sure fewer people hear the devastating words ’you have cancer’.”

A growing cancer risk

Obesity increases the risk of at least 13 different types of cancer – these projections are a stark warning to Government of the cost of inaction.

Every year around 22,800 cases of cancer in the UK are due to being overweight or obese. More research is needed to understand the link between obesity and cancer. But as obesity rates rise, the charity is extremely concerned cancer rates will also increase.

Dr Julie Sharp, head of health and patient information, said: “Obesity is a complex issue and the world around us can make it very difficult to keep a healthy weight.

“Government action is key in making sure that the healthy option is readily available and affordable for people and addressing the wider barriers that prevent people from living healthy lives. If these staggering trends continue, obesity will eclipse smoking as the biggest cause of cancer.”


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