Figures released by Cancer Research UK, point to this demographic as the most overweight generation since records began and highlights a danger that being overweight is becoming normalised.
“Being overweight is the UK’s biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking, but most people don’t know about this substantial risk,” said Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s director of prevention.
“If more people become aware of the link it may help spare not just millennials, but all generations from cancer.”
Millennials—defined as people born between the early 1980s and mid 1990s—make up a sizable portion of the UK population classed as obese (67% of men and 57% of women).
These figures are only overshadowed by Iceland (74% and 61%) and Malta (74% and 58%) in terms of obese nations in Western Europe as the region struggles to get to grips with a worldwide problem.
While the charity looks to bolster campaign efforts to highlight the issue, the charity also points a finger at the Government, whom they urge to play a larger role in improving the health of the nation.
“The government must play a part to help people make healthy food choices,” added Cox.
“We’re campaigning for a ban on junk food adverts before the 9pm watershed to protect young people from advertising tactics which all too often promote fattening foods.”
The Government’s health department, Public Health England (PHE) published a report in 2015 on tackling obesity, which urged restrictions on price promotions and a sugar tax.
Five months later, the government announced a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.
Marketing and advertising
But it’s not just reformulating that is the issue at hand. Cancer Research UK has also highlighted the need to curb junk food marketing and the obesogenic environment being created.
“Research shows that our evolving environment has a vital role to play in the obesity crisis,” said professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert.
“Clever marketing tactics by the food industry and greater access to unhealthy food are all likely to have contributed to the rise in obesity rates.”
The UK has developed some restrictions on the promotion of high fat, salt and sugar products, particularly to children and young people, along with general restrictions placed on all advertisers.
However, the restrictions are self-regulated, as are broadcast and non-broadcast media, which are regulated by the marketing industry, leaving the arrangement open to criticism.
Industry groups such as Food and Drink Federation (FDF) have been vocal in the past about the efforts manufacturers have gone to in addressing the issue.
The introduction of Guidance on Comparative Nutrition Claims back in January was intended to provide advice on the requirements and wording for comparative nutrition claims in the labelling and advertising of food and drink products.
The Federation also claimed that UK food and drink companies had a high compliance rate with advertising rules.
Ultra processed food
Cancer Research’s findings follow the research published in the British Medical Journal that link highly processed food and cancer risk.
French researchers found a 10% increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the diet was associated with increases of 12% in the risk of overall cancer and 11% in the risk of breast cancer.
Responding to the Cancer Research UK obesity awareness campaign, professor Russell Viner, officer for Health Promotion at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said that despite the well-publicised obesity problem, “there remains limited appetite to take bold steps to combat it”.
“There is a danger that being overweight is becoming normalised, as we know that many people struggle to recognise obesity in themselves, and often are unable to see when their child is overweight.
“This campaign is urgently needed. Knowledge of the links between cancer and smoking have driven smoking rates down dramatically amongst our young people. We need the same recognition of the dangers of obesity.”