Why I’ve got a problem with the new CR-UK obesity campaign

Want to know why I have a problem with the new CR-UK obesity campaign?  I will tell you.

It is based on statistics that state obese people outweigh smokers in the UK by 2:1 and that whilst smoking is still a leading cause of cancer, being fat is the leading cause of four types of cancer: bowel, liver and kidneys.

But we all know that statistics can be manipulated to show whatever results you want them to, depending on who is asking, right?  And this is where I have an issue with a campaign that basically says “you’re fat you are going to get cancer and die”.

Firstly that simply isn’t true.   Skinny people get cancer.  Every day.  Healthy people get cancer.  Every day.   Runners and vegetarians get bowel cancer, despite what the statistics say.  I know of two ladies, both what society would term healthy, weights definitely in the acceptable range, under 40, running several times a week and yet both are currently undergoing treatment for bowel cancer.   Nothing whatsoever to do with obesity.

The suggestion that obesity will cause cancer then implies that by losing weight (what the campaign is aiming to achieve) we will lessen our chances of cancer.   That simply isnt true.  I am fairly certain that if I am going to get cancer much of it is down to genetics, fate, whatever you want to call it.   If I suddenly shed five stone there is every chance I will still get cancer.

Screaming “oi fattie, you are going to get cancer” is NOT the right way to run an awareness campaign.   Research shows that there are many factors that are the reason people are overweight including economic and mental health.   It isn’t as straight forward as just saying “you need to lose weight”.   It is discriminatory and it piles more pressure on people who possibly already don’t feel so great about themselves.

As we champion body positivity and inclusivity in advertising on the one hand, here is a campaign with one fell swoop of the other hand is punching that momentum in the face.

According to an article in the Telegraph yesterday leading academics from institutions including Kings College London, University of Cambridge and Bristol University have also warned that the findings are flawed.   The full article is here: CR-UK accused of fat shaming

They have written an open letter to Cancer Research UK’s chief executive in which they say:

By framing people’s weight as the problem, instead of directly addressing the environmental factors you intend to change through policy, you are effectively telling people that cancer is their fault

Which is my next point.  Imagine waking up in hospital, or needing to go in yesterday for more gruelling treatment having seen this story unfolding online.   Thinking that in some way the cancer you are being treated for is your fault. That you are to blame.   This is absolutely not the case with the two ladies I mention above and nor should this campaign make anybody feel this way now.

As the academics have further stated in their letter it may even make people too embarrassed to seek help.  God knows getting help for the symptoms of bowel cancer are embarrassing enough in the first place without having the added pressure of feeling you are being judged for the love of cake on top it.

How about a campaign that centres around fibre, as Ryvita have been doing?  That by eating 30g of fibre a day we improve our overall gut health.   Wouldnt that be a better way to frame this?  Wouldn’t that have more of a positive impact rather than the “obesity leads to cancer” message?

But then none of that would sit with the other article I read this morning.  The one that really makes for damning reading and will take some explaining.  Published in Third Sector is the revelation that since 2013 Slimming World had a fund raising partnership with Cancer Research UK and have raised over £13 million:  Cancer Research UK defends “harmful and misleading obesity campaign”

Just going to leave that there for you and let you draw your own conclusion about those statistics.

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