Are You Offended By This Cancer Research UK Ad?

Are You Offended By This Cancer Research UK Ad?

Cancer Research UK has launched a new initiative to raise awareness of obesity as the second biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking, but many feel as though their latest campaign is simply out to shame them for being overweight. So are Cancer Research UK really “fat-shamers”? And is there a better way to raise awareness without causing offense?

The Problem

If you’ve been on the tube in the last week, you may have noticed Cancer Research UK’s latest ad campaign. An attempt to bring attention to the fact that obesity has been linked to a number of preventable cancers, the charity has taken over billboards nationwide highlighting the issue, and also released a video in which the message is relayed to unsuspecting shoppers in the form of a cigarette packet filled with chips.

But almost instantly the charity began experiencing a large backlash from people who weren’t convinced by the ad – starting with body-positive comedian Sofie Hagan.

What did she say?

Suffice to say, Sofie was not best pleased. She threw her anger out into the Twittersphere, tweeting a picture of the charity’s new slogan – which encourages people to guess the remaining letters in the word ‘obesity’ – alongside the caption: “Is anyone currently working on getting this piece of st CancerResearchUK advert removed from anywhere? Is there something I can sign? How the fking fk is this okay?”

Sofie expanded on her feelings a few days later, adding if there was a true concern for the health of plus-sized people, using tactics that “shame, ridicule [and] abuse” individuals doesn’t exactly encourage them to lose weight – it simply fuels mental anguish rather than physical change. “I am not buying into fat being unhealthy,” she concluded. “It’s not inherently unhealthy and even if it was, fat people can do whatever the fk they want with their health”.

Have Cancer Research UK responded?

Yes – and the charity is sticking to its guns. A reply to Sofie’s initial tweet stated their ad was not “meant to make any feel bad about their weight,” but rather that, as a cancer charity, it’s their “duty” to inform people about the risks linked to cancer and obesity.

Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert Linda Bauld also told us: “This is not about fat shaming. It is based on scientific evidence and designed to give important information to the public. Only 15% of people are aware obesity is a cause of cancer. Cancer Research UK has a duty to put that message in the public domain.”

How do others feel?

Well, the jury’s still out on this one. Many agreed with Sofie, tweeting their support of her anti-fat-shaming stance, adding the advert made them feel uncomfortable and only added to the stigma of being overweight.

But there were plenty on the other side of the argument too – one user labelled Sofie’s argument as a “stupid battle” to fight – “Obesity as a cause of cancer is a scientific fact. I’m a fat piece of crap and even I accept this.”

The solution?

This seems to be an open and shut case of ‘agree to disagree’. Whether Cancer Research UK’s ad is just one of those necessary evils aimed at raising awareness, or if it really is a fat-shaming gimmick, appears to be in the eye of the beholder. This isn’t the first time the charity has warned of the rise of cancer linked to obesity – in May 2017 they revealed new research linked obesity to a spike in kidney cancer, causing an extra 20,000 cases in the last ten years. But adverts dedicated to highlighting preventable cancers often rely on shock factor to convey their message – just look at any anti-smoking campaign.

The overwhelming feeling seems to be that plastering the word ‘obesity’, thick and black and large, across a public billboard is fundamentally embarrassing for those who are the target audience – as if someone is shouting the words at you across the tube platform as you wait for your train. It’s impossible to ignore, and it’s not difficult to see why it could be embarrassing.

Ultimately, the message is one of concern, but the delivery is messy and stigmatising – medical and social scientists have even found using the word ‘obesity’ encourages weight-based bias. It blames the individual, rather than acknowledging a whole range of attributing factors. As one Twitter user said, perhaps the best way to help plus-sized people would be to promote behaviours that are “beneficial for health, regardless of, or in addition to, any weight loss benefits”.

But then, if that were the case would we all be talking about how obesity is the second biggest cause of preventable cancer in the UK?

Cancer Research UK’s job, it seems, might be done.

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