Feb 3, 2016

Cancer Research UK back NHS ‘sugar tax’ to tackle obesity

As the obesity problem in the UK continues to grow, NHS England plans to introduce a 20% levy on sugary drinks and food in hospital cafés by 2020. Organisations like Cancer Research UK, Action on Sugar and The National Obesity Forum back this move. Here we look at why tackling the obesity crisis head on can both help reduce the number of cancers, and also support those with cancer through their treatment and beyond.

The sugar ‘tax’

Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of the NHS, revealed recently that he is proposing a 20% tax on sugary drinks and food in hospitals and health centres across the country. The idea is that sugary food and drink consumption by NHS staff, patients and visitors would be reduced following the new tax. The tax has been criticised as a money-making venture by some. But with being overweight linked to almost 50,000 extra cases of cancer every year, we should take every step possible to reduce consumption of sugary food and drinks, and keep ourselves moving to keep our weight down.

The benefits of ‘sugar-free’

1 in 20 UK cancer cases are linked to weight. And bad diet has now overtaken smoking as the biggest cause of avoidable, lifestyle-associated illnesses in the NHS. Incredibly, there are 10 different cancers that are more common in people who are overweight: oesophagus (food pipe), breast, liver, pancreas, kidney, bowel and womb, and probably gallbladder, ovarian and aggressive prostate cancers. These are 2 of the most common cancers – breast and bowel – and 3 of the hardest to treat – pancreatic, oesophageal and gallbladder. The reason for the link is the fat cells in the body. They produce hormones and proteins that are released into the bloodstream, and can affect many body parts. The good news is that losing weight can help you to reduce the risk of cancer. It can also help you to deal with your treatment better if you have cancer.

Achieving a healthy lifestyle

First, let’s look at how much sugar we should be eating. The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition published recommendations suggesting that:

  • Adults and children should get no more than 5% of their energy intake from ‘free sugars’ – that’s both sugars added to food, and sugars naturally present in products like honey and syrups. It equates to no more than 5–7 teaspoons of sugar a day.
  • Sugar-sweetened drinks should be drunk as infrequently as possible.

There are steps we can take in our own lives to reduce our sugar intake, keep weight down and reduce our risk of cancer. Cancer Research UK suggests measures like replacing fizzy drinks with sugar-free squash, swapping unhealthy snacks with fruit, and checking the sugar and fat content on food labels to help you find low-sugar options.

And of course, exercise is important for reducing your weight and keeping it down. Making physical activity part of your life really can reduce your risk of developing cancer. Scientific evidence shows that people who exercise regularly appear to have a lower risk of colon, breast, uterine and lung cancer. Exercise can also help patients undergoing or recovering from cancer treatment. It reduces tiredness, anxiety and depression. It can also reduce some treatment side effects. It positively impacts on your mood and quality of life. And the greatest benefit? It can improve your treatment outcome and reduce the risk of your cancer coming back. So whether you want to reduce your risk of developing cancer, or you’re currently undergoing or recovering from treatment, include these little steps in your life and they can make a big difference.

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