Scottish Cancer Prevention Network

Excess body weight is the greatest risk factor for cancer after smoking. About one third of the population is currently overweight and about a quarter are obese. It is estimated that about 15% of breast and bowel cancer could be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight – that’s around 6000 cancers a year in the UK. If we look at all the cancers where excess bodyweight is known to increase risk (postmenopausal breast, bowel, womb, ovary, oesophagus, gallbladder, pancreas, kidney, liver, advanced prostate) 17% (about 23,000) could be prevented each year in the UK if we were all within the healthy weight range.

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We asked two experts about their 3 top tips for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight:

Professor Ashley Adamson is a Professor of Public Health Nutrition at Newcastle University  and weight loss advisor to the “Hairy Bikers”!

When planning to lose some weight….

  1. Before you start write down everything you eat or drink for at least three days (make one of them a weekend day), include the amount, time of day and what you were doing. Don’t make any changes and be honest. Make a plan. Look over what you have recorded and decide what you need to change. Set some targets for change, make these detailed so you know when you have achieved them. So not something vague like ‘cut down what I eat’ but be really specific like ‘have breakfast every day’, ‘take fruit to work for mid-morning’, ‘don’t buy biscuits or cakes when I shop’. Write down your personal targets, up to 3 will be a good start. When you achieve these tick them off and then set a couple more.
  2. Regular weighing helps you to keep track and helps prevent weight regain.
  3. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Losing weight is not easy. If you don’t stick to your plan one day don’t give up and abandon all. Just get right back to the plan the next day. Get some support. Ask a friend of family member to help. Share your plan with them. Perhaps someone you know would also like to lose weight so you could help each other.


Professor Naveed Sattar is a Professor of Metabolic Medicine at the University of Glasgow


Key points…

  1. Cut out all sugar in drinks. That means no sugar sweetened beverages (like Colas) and give up putting sugar in tea or coffee. Watch out for fruit juices they are also high in sugars. It can take time to adapt to the changes in taste but it’s worth it! Give yourself up to 2 to 3 months for your tastes to change.
  2. Up your amount of fibre in your diet with the easiest goal to be only ever eat (if possible) wholemeal bread. Also, a fibre rich breakfast cereal is a great start to the day. Look out for the green traffic light for the sugar content and add a little fruit (e.g. half banana) if you need to sweeten it.
  3. Try to eat some fruit each day and always have some handy (handbag/office).




Portion Sizes

If you are gaining weight or finding it difficult to lose weight when eating a healthy diet, it may well be that the size of the portions you are eating are too big. Over the years, portion sizes have definitely become bigger – even regular portions, never mind large or supersize!

One study found that modern portion sizes of popular foods added an extra 50-150 calories. While that might not sound like too much, an extra 100 calories per day can pack on an extra 10 pounds of weight in a year!

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Dodge the Podge with Healthy Swaps

Losing weight is not about getting rid of all the things you enjoy in your diet. Making small changes which you still enjoy make it much more likely you will be able to maintain your new habits and keep the weight from creeping back on in the longer term.

Read more for 10 simple choices you can make to get healthy.

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Useful resources


The British Heart Foundation have a great store of healthy recipes to help you along your way. The principles of heart health are the same as those for lowering your risk of cancer so go on, take care of all parts of your body with these nutritious offerings. If you are struggling to know what to cook for tea look no further. You can also buy one of three cookbooks – Everyday British recipes, Everyday Spice or Quick and Healthy Recipe Books.

Visit BHF recipe finder


Cancer Research UK is an established cancer charity with an emerging interest in cancer prevention. They have loads of good evidence based advice on how to lead a life which will stack the odds against you getting cancer. They, like us, advise “Small changes you can stick with help keep weight off for good.”

Visit CRUK


European Code against Cancer 4th Edition: Obesity, body fatness and cancer

If you would like more information about Taking action to be a healthy body weight

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Read the science