Sugar Strain: Overweight and obesity can increase cancer risk

Sugary drinks, obesity and cancer risk – it’s all related.

We know that 1 in 3 cancers can be prevented – meaning that 37,000 cancer cases each year in Australia could be avoided through simple lifestyle changes. While we all know about the dangers of smoking and sun exposure, far fewer people are aware of the fact that lifestyle factors like overweight and obesity also increase someone’s cancer risk. We know that more than half of NSW adults are overweight or obese, and over 1 in 5 children are too – a worrying trend, and one that requires urgent action from both individuals and the government.

How obesity and cancer risk are linked

Being overweight or obese significantly increases your risk of 11 different types of cancer. To maintain a healthy body weight, you need to balance the energy (kilojoules or calories) from food and drinks with the energy you use up from physical activity each day. It is about making moderate, realistic and life-long changes to your current eating and activity patterns. Specifically, Cancer Council NSW recommends eating two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables every day and aiming for at least 60 minutes of moderate or 30 minutes of vigorous physical activity every day. Eating too much red meat (beef, lamb and pork) can increase the risk of bowel cancer, so we recommend no more than one small serve of lean red meat per day or two serves 3-4 times per week, and try to cut out processed meats altogether.

A call for a sugar tax

We also recommend people aim for water, rather than sugar-sweetened beverages. Sugar-sweetened beverages are energy-dense and full of kilojoules, low in good nutrients, and contribute to weight gain and diet-related illness, particularly among children and socially disadvantaged groups who already experience higher levels of preventable illness.

We therefore see a clear need for action to protect Australians from over-consumption of sugary drinks and encourage healthy choices.

While we all know about the dangers of smoking and sun exposure, far fewer people are aware of the fact that lifestyle factors like overweight and obesity also increase someone’s cancer risk.

Camilla Thompson

Cancer Council NSW supports the introduction of a sugary drinks tax after evidence showed that a tax will reduce consumption of such drinks and help tackle Australia’s high obesity rates.

Even countries with less alarming obesity rates than Australia, such as France and Finland, have introduced a levy. They’re ahead of the curve; we’re falling behind. A sugary drinks tax is by no means the only solution to Australia’s high obesity rates, and it should constitute part of a broader strategy.

Reducing junk food advertising to children

We also know that overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults, so preventing weight gain in children is very important.

This makes childhood overweight and obesity another key priority area for Cancer Council NSW.

Many factors make it difficult for people to maintain a healthy balance between food and physical activity, including the environment in which we live.

Most of the food marketing that children are exposed to promote unhealthy foods such as fast food, sugary drinks and confectionery.

Several studies show that food marketing influences children’s food preferences, the food that they request from their parents and ultimately the food that they eat.

Junk food advertisers target Australian children with manipulative marketing that undermines their health.

That’s why Cancer Council NSW has launched the Our Kids, Our Call, a campaign involving thousands of parents and grandparents calling on the government to take action to limit junk food advertising to children, giving them the best opportunity to develop healthy eating habits and grow to become healthy adults.

You can join the campaign at

Support from Cancer Council NSW

It is important for people of all ages to understand the health risks associated with an unhealthy diet, overweight and obesity, and lack of exercise.

Cancer Council NSW’s Eat It To Beat It nutrition program works with schools and parents to provide practical, budget-friendly ways to help families understand why fruit and vegetables are so important and to get the whole household eating more.

We run free sessions and workshops across NSW for parents of primary aged school children, helping them to understand why fruit and vegetables are so important.

We also recently launched our Healthy Lunch Box website –

The website includes recipes, ideas and tips – and it also features an interactive lunch box builder that enables parents and their kids to plan a healthy lunch box at home, or on the move with their smartphone or tablet.

This story Sugar Strain: Overweight and obesity can increase cancer risk first appeared on Daily Liberal.