A leading charity has warned that being overweight or obese can increased the risk of certain cancers, in some cases more than the risk of smoking.
New figures from Cancer Research UK reveal people who are obese now outnumber smokers in Northern Ireland nearly three to two.
The charity is now calling for action from Government in order to tackle the issue.
While smoking is still the biggest preventable cause of cancer, the charity’s analysis also reveals that being overweight or obese trumps smoking as the leading cause of four different types of cancer in Northern Ireland.
Excess weight causes around 70 more cases of bowel cancer than smoking in Northern Ireland each year.
Cancer Research says the same ‘worrying pattern’ is true of cancer in the kidneys, ovaries and liver.
The news comes as Cancer Research UK launches a campaign across the UK, designed to increase awareness of the link between obesity and cancer.
Posters with images inspired by old fashioned cigarette packs will be on display at prominent sites during July, including train stations, bus stops and billboards throughout Northern Ireland.
The campaign compares smoking and obesity to show how policy change can help people from healthier habits, not to compare tobacco with food.
Cancer Research said that 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.
Margaret Carr, Cancer Research UK’s public affairs manager in Northern Ireland, 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.
“We must make it easier for people in Northern Ireland to live a healthier life. As part of the cancer strategy being developed over the next year, there must be a focus on prevention. It must be ambitious and include plans to restrict junk food price promotions that tempt us to eat too much.”