Being overweight could overtake smoking as the biggest preventable cause of cancer, according to a new study.
And figures from the NHS underline the scale of the risks for people in Horsham, West Sussex, where 60 per cent are overweight or obese.
The warning on weight comes from Cancer Research UK in a study that found nearly 40 per cent of all cancers could be avoided with lifestyle changes.
The biggest preventable cause of cancer is smoking. Nationally more people have been giving up the habit.
According to the latest figures, nine per cent of people classed themselves as smokers in 2016 in Horsham, with men more likely to smoke than women. Since 2012 the proportion of smokers has fallen from 11 per cent.
Smoking is responsible for 237 deaths in every 100,000 people over 35 in West Sussex. But Cancer Research UK warns that the growing waistlines will pose serious new threat to health.
Chief executive Sir Harpal Kumar said: “Obesity is potentially the new smoking, if we’re not careful. My sense would be it’ll be some time in next couple of decades that we’ll see those two switch around.”
The study found that smoking remains the biggest preventable cause of cancer – responsible for around 55,000 cases nationally in 2015/16.
Excess weight is the second biggest preventable cause with around 22,800 cases attributed to people being overweight or obese.
The research published in the British Journal of Cancer shows that obesity causes 13 different types of cancer, including bowel, breast, womb and kidney, and more than one in 20 cases could be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight.
Obesity is already placing the NHS under pressure. Figures show that in West Sussex obesity was a factor in 9,158 hospital admission in 2015/16.
And there is particular concern over the increase in obesity in children. NHS statistics show that ten per cent of children in Horsham are considered to be obese by the end of primary school.