Search The Times and The Sunday Times Cake baking to fund cancer research ‘risks getting the disease’

The “cake bake culture” that raises millions of pounds for cancer research has become so popular that it increases people’s chances of developing the disease, a health group has warned.

The Scottish Cancer Prevention Network (SCPN) said that with obesity linked to almost a dozen different types of cancers, encouraging people to eat foods that are high in sugar and fat to support charities fighting the disease made “no sense”. It urged charities such as Macmillan Cancer Support, whose annual “world’s biggest coffee morning” raised more than £2 million last year alone, to be “more imaginative” and hold healthier fundraising events.

Scotland has the highest obesity rate in the UK, with two out of every three adults either overweight or obese, while incidence of some cancers are among the highest in the world. Being severely overweight is linked to cancers including breast, bowel and kidney.

Although cake bakes have been a traditional feature of village fêtes for decades, hit TV shows such as The Great British Bake Off, starring Mary Berry, have sent levels of home cooking and charity-related events soaring.

The SCPN’s latest newsletter says: “It’s come to be a bit of a bugbear of the SCPN that so many fundraising activities, whilst done with honourable intentions, involve their contributors engaging in behaviours which may be at odds with those advised for cancer prevention — coffee mornings where sweet temptations abound.

“And in our worksite, we have the additional challenge of the bake sale for cancer research — who would not participate?”

Annie Anderson, SCPN co-director and professor of public health nutrition at the University of Dundee, said: “I’m not saying we should stop holding cake bakes for cancer charities but the problem is that there are now so many of these fundraisers, it’s not just once a year. There are 11 cancers linked to obesity and about half of all the sugar we eat comes from biscuits and cakes, so when we see lots of fundraising for cancer charities involving cake sales, it really makes no sense.

“We all need to cut down on our intake of sugar and excess calories and there are plenty of other options for fundraising, from healthy bake sales to physical activities like walking challenges. It’s time to be more imaginative.”

Office charity cake bakes also increased the “social pressure” on many people for whom the workplace was the “primary site for their sugar intake”, she said, with staff feeling obliged to join in. Obesity Action Scotland, a Scottish government-funded group and a SCPN member, echoed the concerns. Its spokeswoman, Lorraine Tulloch, said: “We have normalised sweet treats into everyday life including in the office, in charity cake bakes and in snacking. We need a cultural shift away from that.”

Macmillan defended its coffee morning as a key fundraiser that promoted cake as a “rare treat”. A spokeswoman said coffee morning hosts were given ideas for healthy snacks to serve. “We also encourage supporters to take part in running, walking and swimming events for us and each year thousands of people in Scotland do,” she added.

Last month, the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons south of the border branded “office cake culture” a “danger” to the UK’s health.