Legislation

WHO urges regulation to cut cancers linked to alcohol and obesity

04-Feb-2014 - By Caroline Scott-Thomas+
Legislation could help curb unhealthy behaviours, according to the WHO
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Governments could slow a rapid rise in cancer rates by regulating alcohol and sugary drinks in the same way as tobacco use, claims a new report from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The global report, published by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), says that the public health messages to reduce consumption of alcohol, lose weight, and stop smoking are not sufficient to reverse an upward trend in the incidence of cancer. It estimates that there were 14m new cases of cancer in 2012, up from 12.7m in 2008 – and it expects this to increase to 22m new cases a year by 2032.

The WHO estimates that half of all cancer cases are preventable, as they are linked to lifestyle, and points out that taxes, advertising restrictions and other regulations have been effective in limiting the use of tobacco.

“Similar approaches also need to be evaluated in other areas, notably consumption of alcohol and sugar sweetened beverages,” it said.

Obesity and excess weight are the most common avoidable causes of cancer after tobacco use, according to WHO data.

The report, which drew on the expertise of 250 scientists from over 40 countries, said that even wealthy countries could not hope to cover the annual cost of cancer treatment – thought to have reached about US$1.6 trillion worldwide in 2010.

Dr Christopher Wild, director of IARC and joint author of the report, said: “Despite exciting advances, this report shows that we cannot treat our way out of the cancer problem.

“More commitment to prevention and early detection is desperately needed in order to complement improved treatments and address the alarming rise in cancer burden globally,” he said.

Co-author Dr Bernard Stewart said that governments should see early detection and prevention programmes as an investment rather than a cost.

He added: “Adequate legislation can encourage healthier behaviour.”

The full report is available online here.

Related topics: Sugar, salt and fat reduction, Sugar and health, Legislation, Carbohydrates and fibres (sugar, starches), Food safety and labelling