Millennials are set to become the most overweight generation since records began, according to estimates by Cancer Research UK.
Research from the charity suggests seven in 10 millennials – defined in the study as those born between the early 80s and mid 90s – will be overweight or obese between the ages of 35-44. This compares to around five in 10 baby boomers – those born between 1945-55 – who were overweight or obese at the same age.
Being overweight or obese as an adult is linked to 13 different types of cancer including breast, bowel and kidney cancer, but only 15% of people in the UK are aware of the link, the charity warned.
The research marks the launch of a UK-wide campaign by the charity to increase awareness that obesity is one of the leading causes of the disease.
Cancer Research UK’s campaign will launch across the UK on posters, radio, social and digital media. To highlight the link between cancer and obesity, the charity handed out fake cigarette packets to shoppers in Aylesbury posing the question: “What is the second biggest preventable cause of cancer?” Shoppers were surprised to discover the packs contained chips, and the answer was obesity.
Lottie Goodchild, 24, of Aylesbury said: “It’s shocking, but not surprising. It’s important people know about the link because so many in this country, including the younger generation, are practically obese without even knowing it.
“We need families to support each other to keep a healthy balanced lifestyle, and we need the Government to provide the best possible environment for this to happen.”
Commenting ahead of the launch, Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s director of prevention, said: “Being overweight is the UK’s biggest cause of cancer after smoking, but most people don’t know about this substantial risk. If more people become aware of the link it may help spare not just millennials, but all generations from cancer.
“The government must play a part to help people make healthy food choices. We’re campaigning for a ban on junk food adverts before the 9pm watershed to protect young people from advertising tactics which all too often promote fattening foods.”
Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert, added: “Research shows that our evolving environment has a vital role to play in the obesity crisis. Clever marketing tactics by the food industry and greater access to unhealthy food are all likely to have contributed to the rise in obesity rates.
“Extra body fat doesn’t just sit there; it sends messages around the body that can cause damage to cells. This damage can build up over time and increase the risk of cancer in the same way that damage from smoking causes cancer.
“While these estimates sound bleak, we can stop them becoming a reality. Millennials are known for following seemingly healthy food trends, but nothing beats a balanced diet. Eating plenty of fruit, vegetables and other fibre filled foods like wholegrains, and cutting down on junk food is the best way to keep a healthy weight.”
Responding to the campaign launch, Caroline Cerny, from the Obesity Health Alliance , said cancer is just one of several diseases that obesity increases the risk of. “Reducing obesity will not be achieved by expecting people to just eat more healthily, particularly when our environment constantly promotes junk food and over size portions,” she said.
Like Cancer Research UK, the Obesity Health Alliance has also called on the “Government to take stronger action to tackle childhood obesity”, including changing advertising rules on junk food.