HEALTH campaigners have called for tougher legislation to help curb people's appetite for junk food in a bid to cut cancer rates.

Three charities have warned that Scotland's love affair with high-calorie convenience foods and sugary drinks is fuelling an epidemic of the deadly disease.

Recent research has linked being overweight or obese to 13 different types of cancer, while obesity is the biggest preventable cause of the illness after smoking.

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Yet few Scots are aware of the connection between their weight and their chances of catching cancer, with only a quarter of adults saying they are aware of the risks associated with overeating.

READ MORE: We must take urgent action on obesity

In a letter to The Herald, Lorraine Tulloch of Obesity Action Scotland, Professor Linda Bauld of Cancer Research UK and Professor Annie Anderson of the Scottish Cancer Prevention Network laid out the dangers in stark terms.

They called for regulations to tackle multi-buy price promotions on junk food, measures to reduce junk food advertising, cuts to portion sizes in the places where we eat out and for money raised from the Soft Drinks Industry Levy to be invested to help prevent obesity.

HeraldScotland:

The letter states: "We are facing an obesity crisis in Scotland. The current obesity crisis is clearly linked to our overconsumption of energy dense foods and drinks.

"We are bombarded with special offers and slick advertising on unhealthy foods and this significantly influences our choices. Obesity affects our quality of life and our length of life. It’s costing us dear.

Each year, more than 30,000 people in Scotland are diagnosed with cancer, many of them linked to being over weight. These include bowel and breast cancer, and two of the hardest forms of the disease to treat – pancreatic and oesophageal.

Scotland’s levels of obesity are the worst in the UK, and among the worst compared to most other western countries countries.

Figures released last week show that two in every three adults, and more than a quarter of children, are overweight or obese, meaning people of a healthy weight are now in the minority.

READ MORE: We must take urgent action on obesity

Each year, excess weight is estimated to cost up to £600 million to NHS Scotland, and £4.6bn in the wider economy due to lost productivity and absenteeism.

HeraldScotland:

The letter continues: "If we fail to take action we are sentencing the Scottish people to a future of ill health. Improving our diet will not only have a positive impact on our weight but also help stack the odds against cancer. The Scottish Government must take the action necessary to set us on the path of a healthier future for everyone."

The Scottish Government’s launched a £100 million anti-cancer strategy last year.

Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell said: “Tackling obesity is a top priority. We will consult on our new diet and obesity strategy this Autumn and will progress measures to limit the marketing of products high in fat, sugar and salt, as set out in Programme for Government.

READ MORE: We must take urgent action on obesity

"We continue to engage with the food and drink industry on action to offer healthier choices, including rebalancing promotions and reducing added sugar, to encourage everyone to eat less, eat better and move more.

"We have consistently called on the UK Government to ban junk food advertising before the 9pm watershed, a move we believe would greatly reduce children’s exposure to the marketing of unhealthy food and drink.”