Cancer Research UK compares obesity to smoking to highlight causes of cancer - but is accused of 'fat-shaming'

A Cancer Research UK poster
A Cancer Research UK poster
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A CHARITY’S campaign to highlight obesity as a leading cause of four types of cancer has faced a social media backlash with users labelling the move as ‘fat shaming’.

Cancer Research UK is aiming to increase awareness of the link between obesity and cancer as a report revealed being overweight or obese trumps smoking as the leading cause of four types of cancer – bowel, kidney, ovarian and liver.

In the south east people who are obese now outnumber smokers two to one and in Portsmouth more than six out of 10 of all adults are also overweight or obese.

But as posters with images inspired by old fashioned cigarette packs go up on display in train stations, bus stops and billboards in cities across the UK, people have taken to Twitter to air their opinions.

Body image campaigner Natasha Devon MBE tweeted: ‘#CancerResearch’s #obesity campaign is clumsy & ineffective. Certain eating/exercise habits increase chances of developing disease* but there is no direct causal link with fatness. Helping ppl adopt healthy lifestyles isn’t the same as encouraging weight loss. All these billboards do is increase fat stigma & strengthen the vitriol of health trolls/visual doctors.’

Writer Nimco Ali disagreed and supported the new campaign.

She tweeted: ‘The fact that people are objecting to this campaign about #obesity and calling it fat shaming is just ridiculous. This is science not a mean girls quote. We need to face up to the truth and work with cancer research and address the issue.’

But the charity says the campaign compares smoking and obesity to show how policy change can help people from healthier habits, not to compare tobacco with food.

Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert, said: ‘There isn’t a silver bullet to reduce obesity, but the huge fall in smoking over the years – partly thanks to advertising and environmental bans – shows that government-led change works. 

‘It was needed to tackle sky-high smoking rates, and now the same is true for obesity. The world we live in doesn’t make it easy to be healthy and we need Government action to fix

that, but people can also make changes themselves; small things like swapping junk food for healthier options and keeping active can all add up to help reduce cancer risk.’

Another aim for the campaign is to get the Government to act on its ambition to halve childhood obesity rates by 2030 and introduce a 9pm watershed for junk food adverts on TV and online, alongside other measures.

Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, added: ‘As smoking rates fall and obesity rates rise, we can clearly see the impact on a national health crisis when the Government puts policies in place – and when it puts its head in the sand.

‘Scientists have so far identified that obesity causes 13 types of cancer but the mechanisms aren’t fully understood. So further research is needed to find out more about the ways extra body fat can lead to cancer.

‘Our children could be a smoke-free generation, but we’ve hit a devastating record high for childhood obesity, and now we need urgent government intervention to end the epidemic.

‘They still have a chance to save lives.’

To find out more, visit cruk.org/endjunkfoodadstokids