Is Cancer Research UK’s Obesity Campaign harmful or necessary?

I have had many interesting discussions about Cancer Research UK’s latest campaign with friends, family, mental health professionals, psychologists, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals.*

If you have not yet seen CRUK’s new campaign, it features a cigarette packet stating, “obesity is a cause of cancer…like smoking, obesity puts millions of adults at greater risk of cancer”.

CRUK’s 2018 campaign (which was very similar to the current campaign) was criticised by many academics, healthcare professionals and obesity organisations. It’s clear that CRUK have not taken this advice on board.

It’s very important to highlight that obesity is not necessarily a cause of cancer; we know that there is a link between being overweight and the risk of cancer but stating that obesity causes cancer is misleading and irresponsible. The links between obesity and an increased risk of cancer are not yet fully understood.

The campaign reinforces the ridiculous ‘fat is a choice caused by laziness and lack of willpower’ notion, which is something that we have been conditioned to believe. Weight gain can be caused by a huge variety of factors – genetic predisposition, poor mental health, hormones… I could go on.

There is an epidemic of obesity, and of course something needs to be done about it. This does not have to be done using language that fuels our society’s perception of obese people being lazy, unmotivated, ‘out of control’, amongst numerous other negative connotations. Culturally, this should be approached very differently – ideally in a way that does not cause as much potential psychological harm.

Multiple studies have been carried out to establish whether this form of campaign is effective i.e. does this type of advert encourage people to lose weight? The overwhelming response is no; feeling ashamed of our bodies encourages disordered eating and further encourages weight stigma.

To reiterate, I am not denying the potential negative health impacts of being overweight. However, I will never agree with any form of advertising that shames people.

A petition has been created to hold CRUK accountable for their weight stigmatising campaign. If you would like to sign the petition, click here. I would ask you to read the petition, alongside the open letter written by a variety of healthcare professionals, academics and activists, with an open mind and a little bit of compassion.

*I don’t feel that I should have to give a disclaimer each time I write a new blog, but I’m a worrier, therefore: I am not a healthcare professional, nutritionist or dietician. This is simply my opinion. However, I have received the guidance and opinions of a variety of healthcare professionals.

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