Cancer Research UK, I applaud the amazing work you do. I truly respect everything you contribute to society and in fighting a shitty disease. However, your new ad campaign helps nobody- to the point of being irresponsible.
Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, has said about the new campaign: “Our new campaign aims to raise awareness of the link between obesity and cancer, and to inspire policies that create a healthier environment. Like smoking, obesity puts millions of adults at greater risk of cancer – and like smoking rates, obesity rates can be reduced with government-led change.
I just want to point out the subtle differences between greater risk and causation.
If I live near a busy road, I will be at greater risk of being run over. But if I were hit by a driver speeding down my road, it wasn’t me living there that caused the accident.
The use of the words ‘obesity causes cancer’ implies blame and direct influence and control. But this is simply not the case. If a person gets cancer; you cannot directly imply the reason for it being solely their weight. A number of complex variables make up a person’s weight and health. It is inevitably more complicated than the number of calories they consume or the amount of adipose tissue on their body. The campaign would be better to say:
Excessive calorie intake comprising of a diet deficient in essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals, alongside low levels of inactivity, can increase your chances of developing certain cancers. But I guess that is slightly less catchy.
Science aside for a moment, let’s look at the societal impact of this campaign. First of all, it compares smoking and obesity, as if the two are equal lifestyle choices. As if someone merely chose to be obese. I think almost every fat person I know will tell you that this is simply not the case, they did not actively pursue obesity. A persons weight (and ability to regulate it) can be completely beyond their control due to a number of complex physiological, psychological, medical, genetic and social-economic reasons.
As an ex-smoker, I will admit quitting was hard. But it was a decision I made instantaneously and in one moment – I stopped and went from being a smoker to a non-smoker. You cannot instantaneously change your weight. You cannot just decide to take action, and job done, you are no longer obese. If it were merely so simple to fix, then obesity rates wouldn’t be consistently on the rise, the world over. So before the ‘its as simple as eat less and move more’ brigade sparks up, I think the damming international evidence suggests- no it is not that simple!
The real issue for me with this campaign, is that the implication of blame (you are fat and that is why you have cancer) adds to the fire of fat-phobia and weight stigma that already curses society. It harbors feelings of resentment and hatred, which only fuels more prejudice and harassment.
Whilst many trolls will hide behind the fake concern of ‘whats about your health’ for others it just sparks a cruel vocalization of insults. And you know what really inspires people to adopt more healthful behaviors; being verbally or physically attacked in public, or on social media. Oh no, wait, no, that doesn’t help at all does it. No more than homophobia makes any gay person decide to think twice and become straight.
So whatever your opinions I would ask simply that you be respectful and realize that your hatred is almost certainly not helpful. And if you are an obese person concerned by this new campaign, please take comfort in knowing; you are not to blame. There are a number of positive healthful behaviors you can adopt to improve your overall health and well-being (and consequently reduce your risk of cancers) without feeling the pressure to lose weight at whatever cost.
Jennie is a blogger, free lance writer and specialist personal trainer helping people with barriers to exercise.
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