Scaling down cancer in Scotland

Cancer Research UK calls for price promotion restrictions on unhealthy foods amid fears obesity will become biggest preventable cause of cancer

Friday 31th May 2019

Cancer Research UK is calling on the Scottish Government to clamp down on price promotions on unhealthy foods as it warns rising obesity could become the biggest cause of preventable cancer in Scotland.  

Now responsible for more deaths than any other disease in Scotland, one in two people born after 1960 are expected to develop cancer at some point in their lives. Across the UK, and in line with global trends, cancer incidence is expected to rise by 30% by 2030.

Four in ten cases, however, are preventable, according to Cancer Research UK (CRUK).

Now, the leading cancer charity is raising awareness around the link between cancer and obesity – the second leading cause.

In Scotland 110 tonnes of sugar are purchased and consumed on price promotion every single day – a situation CRUK thinks new legislation restricting deals and multibuy offers could help to fix.

Addressing an audience of practitioners, patients, politicians and others during a reception at the Scottish Parliament this week, Professor Linda Bauld warned obesity will likely become the biggest cause of cancer if nothing is done.

“Cancer is Scotland’s biggest killer, and I’m sure it’s something that has touched all of us in this room. Every year there are over 30,000 people diagnosed with cancer in Scotland – around 87 people each day,” began Ms Bauld, the Bruce and John Usher Professor of Public Health at the University of Edinburgh.

“The reality is this challenge isn’t going to go away; we estimate the number of cases of cancer in the UK is going to rise by 30% by 2030.

“But there is also a very positive story underlying that. As we have already heard, in the 1970s, one in four of us survived cancer, and today that figure is two in four – that is tremendous progress, but its not good enough in terms of the longer term.

“Our objective is that three in four of us will survive cancer by 2034, and we believe that’s achievable particularly with all the research and the excellent clinical work that is going on in Scotland today.”

Over £38m is invested in research by CRUK in Scotland and the charity has helped develop eight of the world’s top ten cancer drugs, as well as prove the link between smoking and cancer.

Thousands of deaths are estimated to have been prevented after the roll out of cervical screening – another step forward that CRUK had a key role in developing.

CRUK invests very heavily in efforts around prevention, and we know that four in ten cases of cancer are entirely preventable – there are things we can modify to avoid them.

“If we can prevent ill health and disease in the first place, that’s certainly more cost-effective than delivering treatment later.

We have a phenomenal reputation in Scotland for our work in prevention,” reflects Professor Bauld, citing minimum unit pricing in Scotland and the smoking ban.

“Now we have this new challenge: overweight and obesity, and our record there is not good at all – the problem is growing.

“Unfortunately, unless we do more in this area, obesity will become the leading preventable cause of cancer.

“That is why we were so enthusiastic about welcoming the Scottish Government’s diet and healthy weight delivery plan – it’s arguably much more ambitious than what we have seen elsewhere.

“In particular we really support the measures in there that would make a difference population-wide, particularly recommendations around restricting price promotions on foods that are high in salt, sugar and fat that are directly linked to obesity.

“…you can’t outrun a bad diet, and we need to start with what is in our shopping baskets...We appeal to the Scottish Government to announce in this September’s programme for Government that you will introduce legislation in this Parliament to restrict price promotions on unhealthy food and drink in Scotland and we ask all political parties to maintain their active support for this measure.

“I’m confident the potential health benefits of this will be significant and we owe it not only to ourselves but to our children to act.”

Welcoming both CRUK’s action in developing treatment and promoting prevention, the Minister for Public Health, Sport & Wellbeing, Joe Fitzpatrick, underlined the importance of public buy-in to changing our food environment for the better.

“I can’t overstate how useful it is to have organisations such as CRUK being clear and vocal about the indisputable link between overweight, obesity and cancer.

“I’m clear that one of the most fundamental areas we need to change is that of our food environment. As a nation we consume too much food that has little or no nutritional benefit.

“…The challenge around tackling these promotions is not one that will be easy for us to take forward, so it is really pleasing that we have cross party support for that."