Three quarters of people in the UK are unaware that obesity increases the risk of cancer, according to new research from Cancer Research UK.
The research found that people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are less likely to know about the link.
The nationwide survey also found that men are less likely than women to be aware of the link between cancer and obesity.
Being overweight or obese is the single biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking and is linked to an estimated 18,100 cancer cases each year in the UK.
Being overweight or obese is linked to 10 types of cancers, including breast, bowel, womb and oesophageal.
A recent report by Cancer Research UK and the UK Health Forum estimated that if current trends of being overweight and obese continue, there will be 670,000 more cancer cases over the next 20 years.
This report also found that the number of obese people would be higher among lower income groups.
Alison Cox, director of prevention at Cancer Research UK, said: “Cancer isn’t at the forefront of people’s minds when talking about obesity and that’s really concerning. Few understand that excess weight increases the risk of several cancers, including some of the most common such as breast cancer.
“It’s the Government’s responsibility to inform the public of the link and also to take action to tackle the obesity epidemic, starting with the health of the nation’s children. It’s great the Government’s childhood obesity plan includes a sugary drinks tax, but it’s not enough to curb the rising tide of ill-health.”
Furthermore, the survey also showed that 78% of those asked didn’t know obesity was linked specifically to ovarian cancer, while 69% didn’t know there was a link with breast cancer and 53% didn’t know pancreatic cancer was linked to obesity.
There was better awareness of the link with bowel cancer with 60% of those surveyed knowing the association and 55% of people linked obesity with liver cancer.
Helen Donovan, professional lead for public health nursing for the Royal College of Nursing, said: “It is shocking that so many people are unaware of the strong evidence linking obesity and many types of cancer – especially as some may go on to die from conditions which might have been prevented. The fact that the most vulnerable are also the most unaware shows the widening health inequalities in the UK today.
“Cancers linked to obesity have the potential to lead not only to private grief and tragedy, but also to a situation where the NHS cannot cope with a serious and widespread health crisis.
“Good public health work by expert nurses can make a huge difference, improving awareness and helping people to lead healthier lives before problems arise.
The study was conducted by the Policy Research Centre for Cancer Prevention at Cancer Research UK.