Tag Archives: obesity


Are your favourite TV chefs affecting your waistline?

If you cook up a storm after watching your favourite TV cookery show, you could end up weighing more than you want to. Kym Lang, our Head of Health Information, tells all.

After an hour of watching Heston Blumenthal invent an amazing meal or Rachel Khoo cook with fresh Parisian produce you head for the kitchen, inspired to make pork belly buns or maybe coq au vin with a twist. But a new study found that making recipes we’ve seen on cookery shows is related to increased body mass index, or BMI. BMI is a good measure to see if you are a healthy weight for your height.

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Jamie Oliver: Tackle child obesity with compulsory food education

jamie-oliver-portrait-150x150Jamie Oliver is a phenomenon in the world of food. He is well-known as one of the world’s best-loved television chefs and restaurateurs. Jamie’s passion for healthy food has led him to launch a global campaign to tackle the child obesity epidemic through better food education in schools.

According to the World Health Organization, 42 million children under the age of five were overweight or obese around the world in 2013.  I repeat, under the age of five…

Something is seriously wrong with our relationship with food and we need to act now before health services around the world become overwhelmed by the effects of preventable diet-related disease. It’s not just diseases like heart disease and stroke that are the issue. World Cancer Research Fund International’s analysis of worldwide research shows that there are now 10 cancers linked to being overweight or obese.

food-revolution-dayDespite the scale of the problem, however, there’s been a failure to tackle the global obesity epidemic. This is why I recently launched a global petition for Food Revolution Day this year to fight for compulsory, practical food education for all children in schools across the world.  Within a month we had well over 700,000 signatures, but now I really need your help to get more.

I profoundly believe that it is every child’s human right to have access to food education from a young age. Research suggests that developing healthy food preferences in childhood is more likely to result in healthy eating in adulthood. So it’s only when children have a knowledge and understanding of food, where it comes from, how it affects their bodies, and how to grow, cook and enjoy it, that we will be able to fix the terrible state of global health as it stands today.

I really need as many people as possible in every country to sign this petition and share it with their friends all over the world. With enough support, we can create a movement that’s powerful enough to make governments everywhere – including yours – to take action in the fight against diet-related diseases, and I really believe this is possible.

We’re lucky today that we can harness the power of technology to make our voices heard easily, instantly and ultimately, with impact. In 2014, my annual day of action, Food Revolution Day, created more than 1.4 billion impressions on Twitter in under 24 hours, all centred around the importance of food education, so I know people care.

Quite simply, I believe that signing this petition is the first step in changing the world. That’s a bold statement I know, but I’m confident that by harnessing our unified, global voice, we have the power to shape the future.

Let’s look at what I’m dreaming of here – it’s really not rocket science. I simply want every child to plant seeds, to witness food growing, to tend to it, nurture it, harvest it, have fun cooking it, and most importantly, to enjoy eating it and sharing it with the people they love. This is absolutely the heart of the solution – food education is an absolute necessity in reversing the poor health of future generations.

Think about it, any school subject can be taught through food – weighing ingredients in maths, planting and growing in biology, provenance in geography. I’m talking about an understanding of food that should instinctively and naturally be part of every day life, so it carries across the core subjects and can be easily embraced to widen that level of knowledge.

Already, there have been hugely positive steps in the right direction – last September, the government in the UK implemented the School Food Plan making food education compulsory in schools across England. And we’re not alone – Japan, Denmark, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Sweden are all applying similar strategies. But there are so many more countries where we must drive change.

Here’s why this petition will work – people power. You really can’t underestimate it. Over the years, I’ve worked with many leaders and politicians, and the one thing they’ve all consistently voiced is that if we demand change, they’ll action it, and that’s exactly what we did 10 years ago in the UK for my School Dinners petition. The campaign felt fruitless at the start but we put school food firmly under the spotlight, we were successful in getting new money put into schools and there’s been radical transformation across the whole system, with many schools going above and beyond what I ever thought possible. That’s people power for you, pure and simple.

Why I’m targeting G20 countries

I’m privileged in my position that I can reach a wide audience easily, and that’s why 30 seconds of your time to sign this petition will allow me to spread this fight even further. Good health, happiness and well-being should be our priority as individuals, no matter where you live and what stage of life you’re at but I also want to get food education onto the upcoming G20 agenda and, from there, to all corners of the world. The G20 is an international forum for global cooperation in today’s world. Its response to the global financial crisis is a testament to the impact G20 members can make when working together. Obesity costs roughly $2trillion dollars globally each year. So the G20 has a vested interest in addressing this burden and the tools to realise the solutions, making it the ideal target for this petition.

Over the past 15 years I’ve consistently, and often successfully, campaigned for better public health, so please trust me when I say that with your help, we can make a profound difference. Please sign and share the petition with everyone you know today, and together let’s change the world. We need to arm our children with the life skills they so urgently need to lead healthier, happier, more productive lives.  I’m optimistic for our children’s future.

Jamie’s Food Revolution Day this year is on 15 May. His petition to G20 countries can be signed here.


Liver is the 10th cancer to be linked with obesity

Liver cancer has become the 10th cancer to be strongly linked with obesity in our ongoing review of the global evidence of links between diet, weight, physical activity and cancer published yesterday (CUP report)

It joins a growing list of cancers that have been linked to weight by the CUP project, with advanced prostate and ovary cancers added last year. Post-menopausal breast, bowel, pancreatic, kidney, gallbladder, advanced prostate, womb (endometrial), liver, ovary and oesophageal (adenocarcinoma) make up the other cancers strongly linked with overweight and obesity.

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We need to be smart and stop “finger wagging” about obesity

Ever walked down a street and felt an almost overwhelming desire to buy pizza? Do you find it difficult to walk past the confectionary aisle in the supermarket without picking up a bar of chocolate?

You are not alone.

Everyone acts on food preferences picked up during a lifetime of family meals, school dinners, TV adverts and other influences from the environment we live in.

Food preferences start to develop in the womb. They continue to be learned during the first 1,000 days and can be remarkably stable for the rest of our lives.

But today around 61% of the UK population is overweight or obese. We know from our research that obesity is strongly associated with nine cancers.

Despite increasing awareness of the links between lifestyle factors like diet, weight, physical activity and cancer risk, as a nation we are failing to eat healthily. Governments have campaigned to influence the food decisions people make, they have also adopted policies aimed at making it easier to eat the right foods.

But we are no closer to reversing rising obesity rates in the UK. And we know that people face an uphill task in shaking off unhealthy eating habits.

Food preferences, once learned, can be hard to change.

That’s why we are advocating a smarter approach that puts food preferences to the fore of anti-obesity food policies. Today we publish a paper in the Lancet that sets out the types of measures that will help reduce the impact of unhealthy food habits.

We are urging policy makers to acknowledge that the preferences people develop are, to a large extent, learned. They are learned at school, at the family dinner table and among friends. Anything that can be done to intervene and encourage the formation of healthier food choices will pay dividends.
Consider traffic light food labelling, a policy that World Cancer Research Fund strongly supports. We know that traffic light labelling works well for people who are conscious of the foods they eat and who want a healthy diet. But for others it’s less relevant. You are less likely to act on the information included on a traffic light food label if your food preferences aren’t healthy in the first place.

A smart policy on obesity would recognise that the food preferences that people develop have a huge bearing on what they eat and how likely they are to act on specific policies like labelling.

What is to be done?

A good place to start is with infants and young children. If we can help kids learn to enjoy healthy eating, they have a better chance of taking that into adolescence and adulthood.

Second, we have to make sure that the environment we live in supports healthier options, particularly in the way foods are priced and presented.

Finally, lets make it easy for people who want to eat well. Particularly in disadvantaged communities where people often want to eat well but are priced out of the healthy options available.

None of this is rocket science, but it is vital that policy makers take on board the fact that the policies they create have to work in an environment where people have already developed food preferences

We also need patience: creating a generation of unhealthy eaters took time, we can turn obesity around, but it won’t happen overnight.

Obesity and cancer risk: Guardian health editor and author Sarah Boseley on the serious impacts of being overweight

Sarah Boseley

Sarah Boseley is the Guardian’s award-winning health editor and author  of ‘The Shape We’re In: How junk food and diets are shortening our lives’. Here she writes about the dangers of obesity, and calls for more robust action to warn people of the impact of being overweight:

‘The tombstone adverts on mainstream national television of the mid-80s warning us of that Aids was a death sentence were unforgettable. The more recent anti-smoking adverts showing cigarettes metamorphosing into tumours were stomach-turning. Governments in the UK have successfully mounted powerful public health campaigns – and yet, when it comes to the serious and growing health impact of obesity, the warning voices are barely more than whispers. It appears the best we can manage are the blob-like cartoon figures of Change4Life who try to jolly us along into attempting a bit more exercise and watching our diet. The humour and gentle tone of it all is a disincentive to taking it seriously.

Small wonder then that obesity is growing and most people appear not to understand that it has the potential to shorten our lives and wreck their quality with disability. The warnings of the public health community are drowned by the multi-million pound marketing of the food and drink industry which has, in the last three decades, succeeded in persuading us to eat more and to cut corners by buying packaged food and ready meals and snacks in the name of convenience and living life to the full. We have bought their message that cooking is too time-consuming for the working man and woman, except perhaps at weekends. We have believed that we deserve frequent treats and sweets and sugar-sweetened fizzy drinks and that the old message of not eating between meals is out-dated. And we sit still more and move less. So now we are in a situation we would never have imagined in the 1980s, where most of us – indeed, nearly two-thirds of us – are overweight or obese.

We no longer notice that people are fat. Although the f-word and the o-word still carry a massive stigma and are thought insulting (with the result that a lot of GPs are reluctant to raise the weight issue with their patients) we don’t see what is happening around us because overweight has become normal. It’s particularly true in some populations, where people have less money and less options in life and filling, fattening food has become ever cheaper. In communities where fried chicken and fried fish takeaways proliferate, waist measurements are dangerously large.

The toll this is taking of our health is grim. Most cases of type 2 diabetes are directly linked to overweight and the numbers of new diagnoses are soaring. The disease already swallows 10% of the NHS budget and that is growing. Type 2 diabetes can be controlled by drugs, but in too many cases there are complications, including blindness and amputations. Heart disease and strokes are fairly well-known consequences of obesity and efforts to limit the damage include the controversial handing out of statins to ever larger numbers of people. But few people who are overweight understand how much it increases their risk of cancer.


According to the World Health Organisation, overweight and obesity are the most significant preventable causes of cancer after smoking – yet most people are more likely to fret about air pollution or food colourants. The unwillingness on the part of doctors, politicians (concerned about damaging the profitable UK food industry) and most of us in social situations to be open about the dangers of getting fat have distorted the picture. But obesity is responsible for an estimated 17,000 cancers in the UK every year.

The evidence is strong in breast cancers in women after the menopause. Between 7% and 15% of those breast cancers are caused by obesity, scientists believe. The Million Women study in the UK, run from Oxford University, found that post-menopausal women who were obese had a 30% higher risk of breast cancer than those of normal weight. And because weight is so hard to shift, women who put it on in their youth have an increased risk of breast cancer in the long term.

Obesity is one of the most important causes of bowel cancer, which few realise, causing more than one in ten cases. It raises the risk of endometrial or womb cancer three to four times and triples the risk of oesophageal cancer. It is implicated in pancreatic, kidney and gallbladder cancer and there is some evidence that it could also be a factor in others, from brain cancer to leukaemia and ovarian cancer before the menopause.

This is preventable risk, but too many people have no idea of the danger they could be in. Our “have it all” culture encourages us to eat and drink what we like, when we like and racks up the profits of the food and drink companies who compete with each other for ever bigger, more profitable shares of the market. Traffic light food labelling is an achievement, but gets nowhere near the sort of health warning we need. Cigarette packets tell us stridently that smoking could cause us to get cancer. Isn’t it about time that we heard a similar message concerning over-eating and junk food and drink?’


This blog was commissioned by WCRF UK. The views of the author do not necessarily reflect those of WCRF UK, or any of its partners.

Are your food portions in proportion?

Increases in portion sizes graphic

Portion sizes of foods in the UK have spiralled “out of control” according to a new report.
Portion Distortion report compared the portion sizes of 245 shop-bought foods with portion sizes of the same foods 20 years ago, and found that many had increased significantly.

Gains in weight graphic

Managing our weight is a balancing act – eating more than we need to can contribute to weight gain, an important risk factor for cancer and other diseases.

Gradual increases in portion size may mean that we are eating more than we think. For example, if you have a single digestive biscuit with your mid-afternoon cuppa every day, you are now eating 3,300 more calories every year than you would have been eating in 1993.

Gains in weight graphic

Making small changes can, over the long term, make a big difference to our waistlines and overall cancer risk. Did you know that maintaining a healthy weight is the best thing we can do to reduce our cancer risk, second only to not smoking?

Staying in shape is also a key way to reduce your risk of other diseases such as heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Calculate your BMI to see if you are a healthy weight.

Tips to help control portion size

• Use a smaller plate – that way you can still fill your plate but you’ll be eating less.
• Avoid eating straight from the packet – measure out a serving into a bowl or onto a plate instead.
• Think about how much food you’re given when you eat out or ‘on the go’ – portions are often bigger than you really need. To avoid food waste, most restaurants will wrap up leftovers for you to take away.
• Share starters or desserts with a friend.
• Opt for smaller serving sizes of alcoholic drinks – alcohol is a serious source of hidden calories and directly increases your risk of cancer. Check out how many calories are in your favourite tipple with our Alcohol Calorie Calculator.

Find out what healthy portions look like with our portions poster.

Five tips for being a healthy weight

Five tips for a healthy weight

It’s National Obesity Awareness Week and this year the campaign is raising the alarm over the cost to the health service.

According to the 2011 Health Survey for England, 25 per cent of adults in the UK were obese in 2011 – an increase from 15 per cent in 1993. The campaign, by the National Obesity Forum, estimates that more than half of the UK population could be obese by 2050, costing the NHS £10 billion a year.

Some of the world’s most serious diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer are known to be weight related. After not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight is the most important thing you can do to lower your risk of cancer and other diseases. But losing weight, or maintaining a healthy weight, can be a challenge.

So for National Obesity Awareness Week 2014 we’ve put together these quick top tips and tools for being a healthy weight.

Tip 1: Find out if you are a healthy weight

A quick way to find out if you’re a healthy weight is to calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI). This is based on your current weight and height.

If your BMI is in the overweight or obese range, losing weight will benefit your general health and be likely to reduce your risk of cancer.

Tip 2: Make long-term changes

The best way to lose weight, and maintain that weight loss, is to make small changes to your diet and physical activity levels that you can keep up in the long-term.

Aim to lose around 0.5kg to 1kg (1lb to 2lb) a week, until you achieve a healthy BMI. For most men, this means consuming no more than 1,900 calories a day and 1,400 calories a day for most women.

Try setting your long-term weight loss goal – the more specific the better. For example, “to lose 6lb in six weeks, ready for my summer holiday”.

A diary can be a great way to keep track and manage your weight as you try to reduce it.

Tip 3: Make short-term goals to change your lifestyle

Think about what steps you need to take to become more active and consume fewer calories. Think about how much exercise you take, what you snack on and what foods you treat yourself to. For example, “I will be active every day for 30 minutes”, “I will swap crisps for rice cakes” or “I will swap sugary drinks for water”.

  • Try our online exercise calorie calculator – by entering the number of calories you’d like to burn, our exercise calculator will tell you how long you to need to spend on a chosen activity. There are 20 activities to chose from and you can select more than one to compare them.

Tip 4: Stay motivated

Think about why you want to lose weight. Having a good reason will keep you motivated so that you’re more likely to achieve your goal, such as “I want to be healthier”, “I want to be fit to play with my kids” or “I want to fit into my clothes again”.

Tip 5: Small steps lead to big changes

Think about the small steps you can take to change your diet. Two wholegrain crackers instead of two slices of white bread will save you 100 calories, for example. Small changes like this soon add up over a period of time.

Visit National Obesity Awareness Week for more information about the campaign and how you can get involved. Visit www.wcrf-uk.org for more free health tools, calculators, information and advice on cancer prevention.

Women and cancer – don’t forget about womb cancer

Healthy weight and womb cancer
Having a healthy weight and being physically active reduces risk of womb cancer

Say the words ‘female cancer’ and most of us (myself included) would think of breast cancer.

It’s pretty high profile in the UK, from the Angelina Jolie story earlier this year, to the huge range of breast cancer awareness and fundraising events that flash up on Facebook, in GP surgeries and in local newspaper articles.

And there’s good reason for that, given that it’s the most common female cancer in the UK.

But how many of us have ever turned our attention to one of the other cancers that affect British women, of which there are many?

This week we’re highlighting womb (endometrial) cancer – the fourth most common cancer in UK women.

Data published today in a report from our Continuous Update Project (CUP) show there is new, strong scientific evidence that being physically active and having a healthy weight could cut the number of cases of womb cancer diagnosed in the UK by about 44 per cent every year.

That means that for every 23 women diagnosed with the disease each day, 10 cases could be avoided if we were all more active and had a healthy weight.

For me this is positive and empowering information because it means I can take steps to reduce my risk.

But I’m also conscious that as a society we need to do more to make being active and having a healthy weight achievable and the norm, because at the moment it’s not.

In England, three in five women are overweight or obese and only half of us are active enough to reap the health benefits (that’s 30 minutes of exercise five or more times a week).

Coffee and endometrial cancer – is there a link?

The CUP report also identified new evidence that drinking coffee can decrease the risk of endometrial cancer but there are still too many unanswered questions – such as how many cups we should drink, or how regularly – for us to provide any evidence-based advice on coffee drinking.

Currently, our CUP has found no consistent, strong evidence that suggests coffee increases or decreases the risk of any other cancers but we are continually reviewing the evidence as new studies are published because we don’t have the full picture yet.

We need to be sure that there are no harmful effects for other cancers or other conditions before giving any advice about coffee drinking.

It’s an area of research we are interested in.

In the meantime, there are plenty of other small steps we can take today to lower our cancer risk.

We offer free resources that could help you eat more healthily, find out if you’re a healthy weight or be more active. Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

Hospitals need to set example on vending machines

It is an interesting product of devolution that the governments of Scotland and Wales are now leading the way in some areas of public policy and, in the health service, the guidance on hospital vending machines is one such example.

Today World Cancer Research Fund, backed by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, is calling for England to catch up with its neighbours to the west and north by introducing health guidelines for the kind of food and drink provided in the vending machines that line hospital corridors. It is time for the NHS in England to establish itself as a beacon of good health practice.

While the Scottish and Welsh governments have been implementing guidelines on the content of hospital vending machines (as well as other food and drink in hospitals) since 2008, Westminster has continued to allow English hospital trusts to set their own agenda at the local level. While local decision-making may be more flexible and, on the face of it, more democratic, it has resulted in a situation where three out of four hospitals have no policy in place relating to the food and drink provided by their vending machines, as revealed by our poll of 146 English hospital trusts.

As our general manager Amanda McLean points out, this has often led to machines filled with high-calorie or high-salt food and drink and very few healthy options. Aside from the link between these kind of products and diseases such as cancer, type-2 diabetes and heart disease, this is a missed opportunity for the government to set up the health service as an example of good practice.

Writing in the British Medical Journal cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra said: “An oversupply of nutritionally poor and energy dense foods loaded with sugar, salt and trans fats, fuelled by aggressive and irresponsible marketing by the junk food industry has even been allowed to hijack the very institutions that at are supposed to set an example and promote positive health messages; our hospitals.”

WCRF UK believes that vending machines should at least offer a healthy option for every type of product they supply, for example healthier baked crisps alongside fried crisps. This would underline the importance the government puts on following a healthy diet as a way to help reduce the number of cases of cancer, heart disease and other conditions that keep our hospitals crowded and cost the health service billions of pounds every year.

Traffic light labelling gets go ahead

Voluntary food labelling system introduced

The launch of a new front-of-pack labelling system for food and drink is a welcome step towards helping shoppers make informed choices about what they buy and, ultimately, in reducing the UK’s obesity burden.

By introducing a consistent scheme and making it easier for everyone to pick healthy foods, a lot of confusion surrounding different manufacturers’ food labelling arrangements has been removed.

Crucially, the new system – which will be phased in from today – includes ‘traffic light’ labels that will see fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar categorised as green, amber or red to give consumers a rough guide to nutritional content at a glance. This is an important step and one that many food producers were originally unhappy about.

As well as the traffic light colours (to denote low, medium and high levels of nutrients), the labels also describe how much of each nutrient, as well as the number of calories, are present per 100g and what proportion of recommended daily consumption this represents (now known as the ‘reference intake’).

The government is to be congratulated on launching this system as it has a vital role to play in helping improve public health. The UK is the first country in the world to introduce a front-of-pack labelling system.

Around two-thirds of adults and a third of children are classed as overweight or obese in the UK, which is a risk factor in a number of diseases, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes, and costs the NHS an estimated £5.1 billion per year.

Following a lengthy consultation, to which WCRF UK contributed, 60 per cent of UK food and drink producers have signed up to the deal, including all the major supermarkets and many big multinational manufacturers. But a significant proportion of producers remain outside the new system, including Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s, Unilever (makers of Hellmann’s mayonnaise) and Cadbury.

Although the scheme is voluntary, we hope these companies come to recognise the benefit of joining a system that could become a regular part of everyone’s weekly shopping trip.

Only when shoppers can be sure of getting all the information they need in a easy-to- understand, consistent format on all products will the scheme realise its potential to change some of the shopping behaviours that have seen us become the fattest nation in Europe.