Since 2003, the percentage of women classed as overweight or obese has never fallen below 60 per cent. This means that, for many years, almost two-thirds of all Scottish women have been overweight or obese.
While most people are aware of the link between weight and heart disease, few people associate obesity with an increased risk of some cancers.
Recent research from YouGov, commissioned by Breast Cancer Now, revealed that only 14 per cent of women in Scotland could identify, unprompted, that being overweight increases your chance of getting breast cancer. In fact, obesity is now linked with 13 types of cancer, including breast cancer. We need bold action to tackle these issues.
The Scottish Government’s Obesity Strategy is a great chance to be radical on one of the greatest public health challenges of our generation – and we all need to be involved in making progress happen.
Breast Cancer Now supports proposals to restrict promotions of food and drink high in fat, sugar and salt. In fact, 35 per cent of all food and drink purchased in Scotland is through price promotion, and foods with high levels of fat, salt and sugar are more likely to be purchased through such promotions than healthier alternatives. Such action could go some way to levelling the playing field and help make healthier choices the norm.
Charities like Breast Cancer Now are also playing an active role in supporting bold action to improve our nation’s health.
Along with the University of Dundee, we are delivering one of the most significant public health trials in the UK. The pioneering £1 million ActWELL trial, funded by the Scottish Government, seeks to reduce women’s risk of developing breast cancer by helping them make sustainable lifestyle changes, focusing on physical activity, diet and body weight.
Women aged over 50 attending routine breast screening appointments across Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow will be invited to take part in the trial and will receive one-to-one support from volunteer lifestyle coaches.
This leading research trial is happening right here in Scotland and could have a huge impact on how our health services across the UK promote health.
Yet, creating the right environment and providing support to empower people is just one part of a complex public health puzzle. To set real change in motion also takes personal commitment and behavioural change from everyone – and that’s something that we should all strive for.
It doesn’t matter how old you are, making positive changes to your lifestyle now can have a big impact in the future.
Being physically active for around 20 minutes a day can reduce your risk of breast cancer. Physical activity could include a brisk walk, gardening or even washing the car. Any activity that makes you breathe harder and get warmer will reduce your risk.
By maintaining a healthy weight throughout life, you can also reduce your future risk. Being overweight or obese after the menopause increases your risk of developing breast cancer. In addition, the more weight you gain during adult life, the higher the chance of developing breast cancer after the menopause.
Reducing how much alcohol you drink can also help. Regularly drinking alcohol – even one drink a day – increases your chances of developing breast cancer.
The more alcohol you drink the greater your risk, so limiting the amount that you regularly drink throughout your life can reduce your risk of breast cancer.
The best weapon that we could have against this disease is the ability to stop it happening in the first place, so making some of these small lifestyle changes could have a profound impact.
Breast Cancer Now exists for everyone affected by this awful disease, and for those working to end it. Prevention remains a key strand of the charity’s vision, and we’re making strides in this with initiatives such as ActWELL, but much more must be done.
It’s only by working together that we can ensure that by 2050 everyone who develops breast cancer lives.
Lawrence Cowan is policy and campaigns manager (Scotland), Breast Cancer Scotland.