You may have seen Cancer Research’s new campaign which is making the link between obesity and cancer, with cigarette packet-style images featuring the word ‘obesity’.

Cancer Research has details on their website about the greater risk of cancer for those with a higher BMI, and how making healthy choices can reduce the risk of cancer.

However, the campaign has come under a lot of fire, and a petition has been set up asking Cancer Research to withdraw the campaign.

A group of academics, healthcare professionals and advocates, who are committed to reducing weight-related stigma and discrimination, as well as encouraging healthier lifestyles, have written an open letter to the CEO of Cancer Research, asking her to remove the campaign, because it is fuelling weight-based discrimination and stigma, and is counterproductive to efforts to encourage healthier eating.  The authors say that the ‘campaign’s focus on weight as a leading cause of cancer is misleading. Body mass index (BMI) is a crude indicator of health and while there is an association between higher BMI and cancer, the reasons and mechanisms for this are unclear.’

They go on to say ‘Given that the dominant public perception is that weight gain is caused by a lack of willpower and that weight can be reduced easily and rapidly, when you frame 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. Through making a direct comparison between smoking and weight, your campaign contributes to these assumptions, suggesting that it is a lifestyle choice. This belies the reality.’

They also raise concerns about the potential conflict of interest involved by Cancer Research partnering with Slimming World.

You can read the full letter on the Medium website, along with a link to the petition.

Other commentators are concerned that this supposed causal link between obesity and cancer is simply playing into the hands of the diet industry, and fuelling eating disorders. These ‘fat shaming’ messages from Cancer Research give more ammunition to those who think it is OK to call out people for their weight.  An open letter in the Metro online, from a mental health campaigner, explains this perspective, calling the campaign ‘clumsy and unhelpful’.

The British Psychological Society has published a draft report (April 2019) entitled ‘Understanding Obesity’ which looks at the causes or obesity, and experience of those who have it, as well as changing behaviour and preventative services.