Only half of 18-24s understand being overweight increases cancer risk

17 August 2023

Half of British 18-24-year-olds (50%) are aware that being overweight is linked to an increased risk of cancer, according to a new YouGov poll commissioned by World Cancer Research Fund. With over a quarter of 16-24s (28%) currently living with overweight or obesity, the charity is highlighting the link between weight and cancer.

Around 40% of cancer cases could be prevented through factors including eating a healthy diet, keeping physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking and being safe in the sun. In particular, living with overweight or obesity increases the risk of at least 13 different types of cancer including bowel and breast cancer.

Other findings showed that only 47% of Brits know that being physically inactive increases cancer risk. To reduce your risk of developing cancer, World Cancer Research Fund recommends being physically active in everyday life and sitting less.

Overall, the majority of respondents answered that smoking (86%) and genes (76%) increase cancer risk. While it is correct that genes are a risk factor, less than one in ten cancer cases are due to inherited genes; although some cancers have a stronger genetic link than others.

Only 3 in 5 (59%) are aware that having an unhealthy diet and cancer are linked, and from those that answered, 18-24s and over 55s are the least aware (56%). 2 in 5 people (41%) are unaware of the link between cancer and drinking alcohol.

WCRF’s Activ8 programme

To support people, including young people, to adopt healthy habits to reduce their cancer risk, World Cancer Research Fund’s 8-week interactive programme, Activ8, will be running all year round, and people can join at any time. From making healthier food and drink choices to being more active in different ways, the programme is designed to be as easy and inspiring as possible while still fitting into people’s busy schedules.

Rachael Gormley, Chief Executive Officer at World Cancer Research Fund, said:

It’s striking to see that 18-24s are the least aware of the link between being overweight and cancer. It highlights how important education among young people is when it comes to cancer awareness and prevention.

Now, more than ever we also need to make the world around us healthier for future generations. Governments across the UK can play a vital role by implementing measures including a ban on multi-buy price promotions on junk food (foods high in fat, salt and sugar), such as buy-one-get-one-free offers.


For more information and media enquiries contact: Marianne Kellner, PR & Media Officer, World Cancer Research Fund at / 07717131883

Notes to editors

According to the latest statistics, over a quarter of 16-24s (28%) are overweight or obese. Source:

Moderate intensity activities will make you feel warmer and breathe faster, but you should still be able to talk; these include brisk walking, cycling, household chores, gardening, swimming and dancing.

Vigorous activities will raise your heart rate and make you start to sweat and feel out of breath. This includes running, aerobics, fast cycling and sports such as squash and netball.

Reducing cancer risk

40 per cent of cancer cases could be prevented if everyone had a healthy diet, was physically active, maintained a healthy weight, stayed safe in the sun and didn’t smoke.

About the poll

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. The total sample size for the 2023 results was 2,092 adults.

The surveys were carried out online between the 28th and 29th of June 2023. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all British adults (aged 18+).

About World Cancer Research Fund

World Cancer Research Fund examines how diet, nutrition, body weight and physical activity affect your risk of developing and surviving cancer. As part of an international network of charities, we have been funding life-saving research, influencing global public health policy, and educating the public since 1982. While society continues searching for a cure, our prevention and survival work is helping people live longer, happier, healthier lives – free from the devastating effects of cancer. and Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & LinkedIn.

Preventing cancer. Saving lives