Even though awareness of the link between obesity and cancer is increasing, obesity rates still remain high in the UK.

Every year since 2010, WCRF has been running surveys with YouGov to ask the nation what they think increases the risk of cancer.1

The biggest increase in awareness over ten years is the knowledge that processed meat can increase the risk of cancer, which has gone from 33 per cent in 2010 to 56 per cent in 2020. And in 2020, nearly 7 in 10 people (69%) now know that being overweight increases the risk of cancer – up from 53 per cent in 2010.

Although awareness is increasing, rates of overweight and obesity in the UK have not gone down. For example, overweight and obesity prevalence in adults in England has remained at 63 per cent since 20102. In fact, in 2010 obesity-related hospital admissions in England were 142,2193, and in 2018–19 these cases increased six-fold to 876,000.

Hard choices

The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has announced plans to help tackle obesity in the UK.4 Our figures support the idea that to do so, the government must make our environments healthier so that it is easier for people to make healthier choices, not just raise awareness of the health risks of obesity. This is more important than ever given how many diet-related health conditions are being linked to a worse COVID-19 infection outcome, including obesity.

Dr Kate Allen, Executive Director of Science and Public Affairs at World Cancer Research Fund, said: 

“We are pleased that the government has announced plans to help lower obesity levels in the UK, for both children and adults, by recognising that our environments play a huge part in shaping our choices. In particular it is great news that the plans include a 9pm watershed on junk food ads, which will protect a child's right to the highest attainable standard of health, which includes a healthy diet.”

We know that providing information is not enough to change peoples’ lifestyles. Our FREE online cancer prevention course includes a module on behaviour change, to help you to have conversations with patients and clients that support lasting lifestyle change.


1YouGov 2020 figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size for the 2020 results was 2,032 adults and fieldwork was undertaken between 14–17 February 2020. Total sample size for the 2010 results was 2,023 adults and fieldwork was undertaken between 19–22 February 2010. The surveys were carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

2NHS Digital. Health Survey for England. 2019.

3NHS Digital. Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet. 2019.

4GOV.UK. Tackling obesity: government strategy. 2020.