New campaign educates Victorians about obesity and cancer link

Tuesday 23 October, 2018

Obesity is now a leading preventable cause of cancer 1, but less than half of all Australians are aware of the link 2. A new campaign launched today by Cancer Council Victoria is aiming to change this.

In a ground-breaking new public awareness campaign, Cancer Council Victoria will expose the link between obesity and 13 types of cancer by depicting the toxic fat around internal organs.

As many as 98% of Australians are aware that obesity is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes and heart disease, but as little as 40% of Australians know about its link with cancer 3

Cancer Council Victoria CEO, Todd Harper, acknowledged that the campaign’s portrayal of toxic fat could be confronting but said so was the fact that nearly two-thirds of Australians were overweight or obese 4.

“While talking about weight is a sensitive issue, we can’t shy away from the risk being above a healthy weight poses to our health.” Mr Harper said.

“With around 3,900 cancers in Australia each year linked to being above a healthy weight, it’s vital that we work hard to help people understand the link and encourage them to take steps to reduce their risk 5.”

Sugary drinks contribute the most added sugar to Australians’ diets 6, so Cancer Council Victoria is focusing on how these beverages can lead to unhealthy weight gain, which can increase the risk of certain cancers. The campaign will communicate that one way of reducing the risk is to cut sugary drinks from your diet.

The ad features Melbourne surgeon Dr Ahmad Aly exposing in graphic detail what sugary drinks could be doing to your health, as his laparoscopic camera delves inside a patient’s body to expose the dangerous toxic fat around internal organs.

Dr Aly has seen first-hand the impact toxic fat has on people’s health and hopes the campaign will make people think again before reaching for sugary drinks.

“A third of Victorians admit to drinking more than a litre of sugary drink each week 7, that’s more than 5.5kgs of sugar a year. We want people to realise that they could be drinking their way towards weight gain, obesity and toxic fat, increasing their risk of 13 types of cancer,” Dr Aly said.

Jane Martin, Executive Manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition, said that while the campaign aims to get people thinking about their own habits, Cancer Council Victoria and partner organisations are also working to encourage governments, the food industry, and communities to make changes.

“It’s virtually impossible to escape the enormous amount of marketing for sugary drinks surrounding us on TV, social media and public transport. It’s also easier to get a sugary drink than it is to find a water fountain in many public places, and that’s got to change. We need to take sugary drinks out of schools, recreation and healthcare settings to make it easier for Victorians to make healthy choices.”

“The need for a healthy weight strategy in Victoria, as well as nationally, is overdue. In the same way tobacco reforms have saved lives, we now need to apply the same approach to improving diets”, Ms Martin said.

Case study: Fiona Humphreys available for interview

Since giving up the sweet stuff, Fiona Humphreys has more energy and has managed to shed the kilos and keep them off.

“I used to drink at least two sugary drinks every day as a pick me up, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. I was addicted to the sugar rush and thought I needed them to get through my busy day.”

“After giving up sugary drinks I saw an immediate change in both my mood and my waistline. I lost 7 kilos just by making that one simple change and I haven’t looked back.”

“I decided to go cold turkey and switched to soda or mineral water with a slice of lime or lemon. I tricked my mind to enjoy the bubbles and put it into a beautiful glass. I feel healthier and my mind is clearer as a result.”

The campaign will run for five weeks and be shown on TV and radio and will feature across social media channels as well as outdoors across the state.

A dedicated campaign website cancervic.org.au/healthyweight will provide factsheets for health professionals and consumers and digital elements about how to make small lifestyle changes to improve people’s health.

Top tips to avoid sugary drinks 

  • Avoid going down the soft drink aisle at the supermarket and beware of the specials at the checkout and service stations.
  • If you're eating out, don't go with the default soft drink – see what other options there are, or just ask for water.
  • Carry a water bottle, so you don't have to buy a drink if you're thirsty.
  • Herbal teas, sparkling water, home-made smoothies or fruit infused water are simple alternatives that still taste great.
  • For inspiration and recipe ideas visit cancervic.org.au/healthyweight


  1. Wilson, L., Antonsson, A., Green, A., Jordan, S., Kendall, B., Nagle, C., Neale, R., Olsen, C., Webb, P., Whiteman, D, How many cancer cases and deaths are potentially preventable? Estimates for Australia in 2013, 2017
  2. Watson, W., Weber, M., Hughes, C., Wellard, L., Chapman, K., Support for food policy initiatives is associated with knowledge of obesity-related cancer risk factors. Public Health Research and Practice 2017. 27(5): p. 1-8.
  3. Morley B, N.P., Dixon H et al, Evaluation of the LiveLighter Campaign: Topline Findings July to October 2014, 2015, Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, Cancer Council Victoria: Melbourne
  4. AIHW, A picture of overweight and obesity in Australia. , 2017: Canberra.
  5. Whiteman, D.C., Webb, P.M., Green, A.C., Neale, R.E., Fritschi, L., Bain, C.J., … & Pandeya, N., 2015, ‘Cancers in Australia in 2010 attributable to modifiable factors: summary and conclusions’, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, vol. 39, no. 5, pp. 477–484.
  6. Louie, J., Rangan, A., Patterns of added sugars intake by eating occasion among a nationally representative sample of Australians, Springer Journal, 2016: Heidelberg.
  7. Morley BC, Niven PH, Dixon HG, et al Controlled cohort evaluation of the LiveLighter mass media campaign’s impact on adults’ reported consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, BMJ Open 2018;8:e019574. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-019574