Cancer Research UK has been criticised for a new campaign advert featuring a mocked-up packet of cigarettes to warn of the shared dangers of smoking and being obese.
The image plays on the health guidance usually seen on cigarette packaging, but instead features the slogan: “Obesity is a cause of cancer too.”
“Like smoking, obesity puts millions of adults at greater risk of cancer,” reads another caption, alongside a link directing people to its efforts to ban junk food promotions targeted at children.
The charity has never been shy about advising people to watch their weight, and last year published a study that said obesity could overtake smoking as the top preventable cause of the deadly disease.
But its approach this time has been poorly received by people on social media and mental health professionals.
Simone Harding, a counsellor and nutritionist, said: “Weight stigma is rife across society – the research detailing weight stigma in healthcare, media etc shows us that blaming individuals for a situation that is complex leads to worse outcomes, not better. It creates a bigger problem.
“My husband has recently been diagnosed with lung cancer at 43. He is thin and a non-smoker. Neither of those variables protected him and the advert really renders his experience as a person with cancer invisible.
“Cancer is never anyone’s fault.”
The advert has been spotted at rail stations and on billboards, and the charity has also posted it online.
Many of the replies to a Cancer Research UK tweet unveiling the image accused the charity of “fat shaming”.
One said: “This is appalling. 98% of diets fail. People can improve their health eating more fruit and vegetables and taking more exercise.
“Comparing an overweight person who eats a healthy diet and exercises with a person who smokes and suggesting the outcomes are similar is untrue.”
Another, Julie Taylor, replied: “I agree. Body shaming or fat shaming just makes people feel worse, and responsible for their cancer. It leaves them vulnerable to abuse form others when they exercise.
“Correlation is not causation. This campaign must cost millions. Wasteful and damaging.”
Some drew comparisons to another Cancer Research UK campaign launched last February, which included a series of adverts highlighting the link between obesity and cancer.
Comedian and body campaigner Sofie Hagen was among those critical of the charity at the time, branding the adverts as “incredibly damaging”.
But Cancer Research UK has so far stood by the campaign, with chief executive Michelle Mitchell saying that it was aimed at pushing the government to do more to tackle obesity.
“Our campaign aims to raise awareness of the link between obesity and cancer, and to inspire policies that create a healthier environment,” she said.
“We have a responsibility to tell people about what might increase the risk of cancer.
“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.
“Smoking rates in the UK have dropped dramatically over the years, thanks to measures like higher tobacco taxes and marketing bans; now we need a similar approach to tackle obesity.”
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