Our policy work

We want cancer prevention, healthy diets and physically active populations to be a core priority for all governments, and for everyone to be able to eat well and move more.

Our messages around cancer prevention at a population level are delivered through our policy work. We provide evidence and recommendations to help governments and policymakers around the world design and implement policies to reduce preventable cases of diet-related cancer and other non-communicable diseases.

> Read our policy strategy for 2021–24

Why do many struggle to access a healthy diet?

Poor diets result in huge health, economic and environmental burdens and are one of the most pressing global challenges we face today. Current food systems and environments do not enable and support people to make healthy food choices, with many unable to access or afford a healthy diet.

Processed foods which contain high levels of salt, fat and sugar are readily available, affordable and intensively marketed around the world, and increasing in lower and upper middle-income countries.

Today 1 in every 3 is overweight or obese – a risk factor for at least 13 cancers – and overweight and obesity are increasing rapidly in nearly every country in the world. We’re also seeing overweight, obesity and other diet-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cancer, existing alongside undernutrition in many more countries – known as the double burden of malnutrition.

Many governments are not taking enough action on a range of international goals and targets (see box below). Progress remains painfully slow and is being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and widening social and economic inequalities.

The funding gap to address overweight, obesity and other diet-related NCDs is growing too – countries are not making adequate progress towards universal health coverage to prevent NCDs, overweight and obesity and promote healthy diets.

Why is being physically active important?

Global prevalence of insufficient physical activity was 27.5% in 2016. Inactivity causes 9% of premature mortality, or more than 5.3 million of the 57 million deaths that occurred worldwide in 2008, in addition to their associated high economic burden worldwide.

Regular physical activity provides well-established protection for the prevention of certain cancers. It can also reduce the risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes and it contributes to energy balance and weight control.

It’s also associated with:

  • improved mental health
  • delay in the onset of dementia
  • improved quality of life and wellbeing

There are multiple benefits from increasing population levels of physical activity, yet many people are insufficiently active. Governments need to create environments, opportunities and initiatives through a range of policy areas to support and promote physical activity throughout the life course.

More needs to be done to get more people active using initiatives such as active travel through walking and cycling infrastructure and access to green spaces, and educating everyone about the benefits of living an active life.

Key global goals and targets: progress so far

In 2015, world leaders committed to reducing premature deaths from non-communicable diseases by one-third by 2030 in the Sustainable Development Goals. Furthermore, target 7 of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable diseases 2013–2030 calls to “halt the rise in diabetes and obesity [based on 2010 levels]”.

However, most countries have less than a 10% chance of meeting this target and the majority of governments are moving further away from this goal. The 2020 NCD progress monitoring report shows that, out of 10 indicators, only 2 are fully met by half of the 194 WHO Member States.

The WHO Global Nutrition target of ‘no increase in childhood overweight’ is also off track with childhood obesity rates rising.

The Global Action Plan on Physical Activity 2018–2030 (GAPPA) aims to help countries meet the global target of a 15% relative reduction in the prevalence of insufficient physical activity by 2030. Despite the fact that policies to address physical inactivity have been developed in about 80% of WHO Member States, only 56% of these countries had operational policies in 2013.

What does World Cancer Research Fund International do?

To help countries around the world meet global targets and reduce the population risk of developing a diet-related NCD, we work with partners and policy makers to drive robust policy design and implementation, with a specific focus on population-based regulatory and fiscal measures.

  • We are one of 14 research organisations participating in the EU CO-CREATE project, which aims to reduce childhood obesity by working with young people to create policy actions promoting healthier environments. We are responsible for identifying and analysing available diet and physical activity policies in 30 European countries.
  • We promote our NOURISHING and MOVING frameworks to drive evidence-based policymaking. NOURISHING brings together the ten areas where governments need to take action to promote healthier diets and reduce obesity. MOVING, which was developed as part of the CO-CREATE project, highlights the six areas governments need to focus on to promote physical activity. Download our 1-page explainers on NOURISHING and MOVING.
  • We collect diet-related and physical activity policies in our NOURISHING and MOVING databases, which we recommend that governments use to see what other countries are doing, learn from their experiences and to build effective policy actions tailored to their own specific contexts.
  • We advise the World Health Organization (through our official relations status) and governments on developing policy, based on our evidence and research.
  • We respond to consultations and publish position statements on areas related to our work.
  • We develop publications on specific policy areas such as marketing restrictions and labelling, using learnings from around the world to provide guidance and useful resources and information. We also provide advice on how to protect policy development processes from industry interference.
  • We work in coalitions and partnerships to collaborate on key issues and push for policy change.
  • We communicate latest policy developments and insights on impact.
  • In May 2023, we launched the NOURISHING (nutrition) and MOVING (physical activity) policy indexes. The indexes assess how well European governments are doing to create environments that help prevent and tackle obesity through enabling and supporting healthy eating and physical activity. The indexes provide useful information and data for policymakers, civil society organisations and researchers, supporting advocacy efforts to hold governments accountable for appropriate action. The indexes are supplemented by country snapshots that present a more in-depth analysis of the policy status in each included country.