Vanity Beats Cancer as Motivation for Weight Loss

Armen Hareyan's picture

Weight Loss and Cancer

PEOPLE rate looking good over reducing the risk of cancer as a reason to maintain a healthy body weight - according to a new survey by Cancer Research UK.

The findings show widespread lack of knowledge about the link between obesity and cancer risk. Forty per cent of people think looking good is an advantage of maintaining a healthy body weight, compared with 32 per cent for lowering the risk of cancer. Twice as many people - 67 per cent - picked reducing the risk of heart disease.

Being obese or overweight is one of the most significant preventable causes of cancer in non-smokers. Obesity increases the risk of bowel, stomach, oesophageal and kidney cancers, as well as cancer of the womb and breast cancer in post-menopausal women. Yet rates of obesity are increasing throughout the UK.

Cancer Research UK and Weight Concern have joined forces to develop a weight management programme called Ten Top Tips. These tips have been designed to fit into daily life and are based on the best scientific evidence. The programme involves adopting ten simple steps and using a weekly checklist over eight weeks to monitor progress and reinforce the new habits into a lifetime of healthy behaviour.

Cancer Research UK interviewed over 4000 people from around the UK to identify the factors that motivate people to maintain a healthy body weight.

The respondents were offered a range of reasons to choose from, including 'to make me feel healthier', 'to lower my risk of heart disease', 'to lower my risk of cancer', 'to feel better about myself', 'to be more active', and 'to reduce my risk of diabetes', as well as 'to look good'.

Reducing the risk of cancer was selected less frequently than many of the other responses as a benefit of maintaining a healthy body weight, although it did score slightly higher than 'to fit into nicer clothes'.

Those aged between 25 and 34 proved the most image-conscious with nearly half - 48 per cent - saying that looking good was a reason for a healthy weight and only 34 per cent picking cancer risk as a motivating factor. Looking good and cancer risk were equal reasons for those over 65 with 25 per cent listing both.

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: "This research provides a real insight into the priorities many of us have when it comes to looking after our bodies and the low awareness of the link between obesity and cancer. We know for those who don't smoke, maintaining a healthy body weight is one of the most important things we can do to reduce our risk of cancer."

"The Ten Top Tips offer clear information and practical advice, helping people form lifelong habits to maintain a healthy body weight."

Professor Jane Wardle, director of Cancer Research UK's health behaviour unit, said: "At the height of summer many of us are worried about looking good and it is not surprising these results show that so many of us are motivated by our body image when it comes to our weight. What is alarming is that so many people are unaware that reducing cancer risk is a benefit of maintaining a healthy body weight."


"We need to continue raising awareness of the dangers of obesity, and offer information to help people lose those extra pounds and maintain a healthy weight. Visiting Reduce the Risk. and following the Ten Top Tips is the first step towards a healthier body."

The tips themselves are as follows:

  • Keep to your meal routine
    Try to eat at roughly the same times each day, whether this is two or five times a day.

  • Go reduced fat
    Choose reduced fat versions of foods such as dairy products, spreads and salad dressings where you can. Use them sparingly as some can still be high in fat.

  • Walk off the weight
    Walk 10,000 steps (equivalent to 60-90 minutes moderate activity) each day. You can use a pedometer to help count the steps. You can break-up your walking throughout the day.

  • Pack a healthy snack
    If you snack, choose a healthy option such as fresh fruit or low calorie yogurts instead of chocolate or crisps.

  • Look at the labels
    Be careful about food claims. Check the fat and sugar content on food labels when shopping and preparing food.

  • Caution with your portions
    Don't heap food on your plate (except vegetables). Think twice before having second helpings.

  • Up on your feet
    Break up your sitting time. Stand up for ten minutes out of every hour.

  • Think about your drinks
    Choose water or sugar-free squashes. Unsweetened fruit juice is high in natural sugar so limit it to 1 glass per day (200ml/ 1/3 pint). Alcohol is high in calories. Try to limit the amount you drink.

  • Focus on your food
    Slow down. Don't eat on the go or while watching TV. Eat at a table if possible.

  • Don't forget your 5 a day
    Eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day (400g in total).

Ten Top Tips form a key element of Cancer Research UK's Reduce the Risk campaign which aims to raise awareness of the avoidable risks of cancer and highlight ways to reduce this risk.