World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) has launched new findings highlighting the unhealthy habits Brits have picked up during the pandemic, and how they are a potential cause for concern when it comes to reducing the risk of cancer1.

A survey of over 2,000 people in the UK revealed that since the first lockdown in March 2020, adults were twice as likely to have started eating more unhealthy food and snacks than to have started exercising: 40 per cent of adults had started eating more unhealthy food and snacks, while only 22 per cent had started exercising. In addition, over a quarter of adults reported that they had started drinking more alcohol.

True impact of the pandemic

The survey also revealed that overall awareness of cancer risk factors has dropped. WCRF’s survey highlighted that the number of people who know that being overweight increases the risk of cancer fell from 69 per cent in 2020 to 62 per cent in 2021. Knowledge that a lack of physical activity can also increase a person’s risk has fallen from 53 per cent in 2020 to 48 per cent in 2021, and knowledge that alcohol increases the risk of certain cancers has fallen from 63 per cent in 2020 to 59 per cent in 2021.

Rachael Gormley, CEO of WCRF, said:

“Most people are unaware that around 40 per cent of cancers could be prevented through changes to lifestyle – that’s the equivalent of 147,000 people every year in the UK who develop a preventable cancer. Sadly, these numbers are likely to increase; we are only now beginning to see the true impact of the coronavirus pandemic and how it has affected delays to the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. We believe it is more vital than ever that the public are aware of prevention measures.”

WCRF’s Recommendations include:

  • eating no more than three portions of red meat a week, and little if any processed meat
  • eating a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and pulses, and limiting consumption of fast foods, including sugary drinks
  • being active for at least 150 minutes a week, and sitting less
  • avoiding alcohol

Learn more about our Cancer Prevention Recommendations and how to put them into practice with your patients and clients with our FREE online cancer prevention course.


1YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,116 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 11–12 February 2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).