Tens of thousands of Wigan people are overweight if not clinically obese, worrying new statistics reveal.
And a charity warned today that this is putting many of them at increased risk from cancer.
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Latest figures show that nearly 70 per cent of the adult population is carrying more weight than is good for them - far higher than the national or Greater Manchester averages.
And obesity cases are outnumbering smokers now by two to one, increasing the dangers of the bowel, kidney, liver and ovary.
It has prompted a major new Cancer Research UK publicity campaign on the borough streets while Wigan Council has flagged up all the weight loss services and facilities encouraging greater fitness that it and partners provide locally.
The cancer charity pointed out that dangerously obese people in the North West now outnumber smokers by two to one, although nicotine remains the nation's biggest preventable cause of cancer and carries a much higher risk of the disease than obesity.
However, Cancer Research UK’s analysis also reveals that being overweight or obese trumps smoking as the leading cause of four types of cancer: bowel, kidney, ovarian and liver.
In the North West, around three in 10 adults are obese.
In Wigan, around seven in 10 (69 per cent) of adults are overweight or obese.
The Greater Manchester ratio is 63 per cent.
The news comes as Cancer Research UK launches a new campaign across the North West designed to increase awareness of the link between obesity and cancer.
Extra body fat sends out signals that can tell cells to divide more often and, similar to smoking, can cause damage that builds up over time and raises the risk of cancer.
Posters with images inspired by old fashioned cigarette packs will be on display in July at prominent sites across Wigan including Wigan North Western railway station, Warrington Road, Wigan Lower Road and Ormskirk Road.
The campaign compares smoking and obesity to show how policy change can help people form healthier habits, not to compare tobacco with food.
Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “As smoking rates fall and obesity rates rise, we can clearly see the impact on a national health crisis when the Government puts policies in place – and when it puts its head in the sand.
“Our children could be a smoke-free generation, but we’ve hit a devastating record high for childhood obesity, and now we need urgent Government intervention to end the epidemic.
“They still have a chance to save lives.
“Scientists have so far identified that obesity causes 13 types of cancer but the mechanisms aren’t fully understood.
“So further research is needed to find out more about the ways extra body fat can lead to cancer.”
The charity wants the Government to act on its ambition to halve childhood obesity rates by 2030 and introduce a 9pm watershed for junk food adverts on TV and online, alongside other measures such as restricting promotional offers on unhealthy food and drinks.
Prof Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert, said: “There isn’t a silver bullet to reduce obesity, but the huge fall in smoking over the years – partly thanks to advertising and environmental bans – shows that Government-led change works. It was needed to tackle sky-high smoking rates, and now the same is true for obesity.
“The world we live in doesn’t make it easy to be healthy and we need Government action to fix that, but people can also make changes themselves; small things like swapping junk food for healthier options and keeping active can all add up to help reduce cancer risk.”