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Urgent action needed to prevent 8000 cancer diagnoses yearly

Around 8,000 New Zealanders are diagnosed with potentially preventable cancer each year and bold action is needed to curb the dramatic harm caused by the “big three” risk factors: obesity, alcohol and tobacco.

That’s the call from the Cancer Society Auckland Northland as it launches Cancer Research Week (Monday October 29) with a symposium focused on cancer prevention.

Cancer Society Auckland Northland Communications Manager, Paul Hayes, says more than 30% of cancers are potentially preventable and courage is needed to pursue policies for a healthier New Zealand.

“We need to double down on cancer prevention and address the harm caused by unhealthy food, alcohol and tobacco. If we don’t act now, we will very sadly see thousands more New Zealanders diagnosed with preventable diseases such as cancer,” he says.

Mr Hayes says most New Zealanders know that smoking and sun exposure can cause cancer, but research shows many are unaware of the risks posed by obesity and alcohol.

The “big three” risk factors contribute to a range of different cancers, including some of the most common in New Zealand: lung, breast and bowel cancer.

Mr Hayes says a focus on education and industry self-regulation has not managed to stem the harm caused by the consumption of junk food, sugary drinks, tobacco and alcohol.

“We need courage to implement good strong preventative policies. That means policies that will impact on the sale, supply and availability of alcohol. Policies that will impact on the availability of sugar-sweetened beverages and fast foods for our kids. And policies that are going to reduce the rates of smoking in our people,” he says.

Mr Hayes says New Zealand is sitting on a ticking timebomb and if nothing is done by 2035 more than 30,000 New Zealanders will be diagnosed with cancer each year.

The Cancer Society’s one-day symposium Stop Cancer Before it Starts focuses on policies to help prevent cancer and features renowned international experts, Professor Gerard Hastings from the UK and Professor Anna Peeters from Australia.

Marketing expert Professor Hastings pulls no punches in warning of the power of junk food, alcohol and tobacco marketing, especially when it targets the young and the vulnerable.
He says big brands have turbo-charged their use of social media and digital marketing to such an extent that we now live in an era dominated by diseases of consumption.

Professor Hastings believes regulations are urgently needed to control marketing, especially to children and adolescents.“Citizens, civil society and Government need to come together to prioritise public health, not corporate profits,” he says.

Obesity expert, Professor Anna Peeters, is at the cutting edge of research looking at how to influence the retail environment to encourage consumers to make healthier food choices.

Professor Peteers, from the Deakin Institute for Health Transformation in Australia, recently explored how graphic cigarette-style health warnings on sugary drinks may help to dissuade consumers from purchasing.

“Research shows us that addressing the obesity epidemic is not simply about individuals making lifestyle changes. We need to change the environment that people live in to enable them to pursue healthy habits and behaviours,” she says.

New Zealand researchers, including Professor Sally Casswell, Professor Boyd Swinburn, Professor Jennie Connor and Professor Richard Edwards, are also speaking at the symposium.
The Cancer Society’s Mr Hayes hopes the symposium will inspire a rethink on strategies for a healthier New Zealand.

“We know that if we carry on the same path we’re on now, then we’ll be having the same conversation in 10-years. We need to be bold, we need to be action-focused and we need to do things now! We need to care for our community and show that we care by taking bold action on cancer prevention.”

For more information on the Cancer Society’s Cancer Research Week visit:

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