Fatshaming or life-saving?

Cancer Research came under fire recently for a controversial campaign advertisement that was intended to increase awareness of obesity as a leading cause of cancer. The ad, which references the fact that obesity is fast becoming known as one of the leading preventable causes of cancer, has been accused by some of tactlessly ‘fatshaming’ those struggling with weight issues.

Cancer Research has defended the approach of their campaign by citing statistical evidence that shows that while obesity is, in fact, the second biggest cause of cancer in the UK after smoking, only 15% of people are aware of the link. An article from their website from earlier this year points to studies from 2012 and 2016 which consistently found that conscious efforts towards weight loss were in fact associated with a reduced risk of cancer.  Awareness campaigns like this one could be a positive step towards helping people understand the consequences of their eating habits and even inspire some potentially life-saving changes. Surely it is better that people are informed about the potential risks of the lifestyles they are leading at the expense of a bit of backlash from a few hurt feelings.

It could be argued though, that the repercussions of the ad go much beyond that. What would you think were you to walk down the street and see the same advertisement but with obesity switched out for, say, anorexia instead? Obesity is as much an eating disorder like any other and one which many would claim individuals often have very little personal control over. Ironically, an ad which attempts to target physical epidemic risks exacerbating a mental one in the process.

But whether you consider obesity as purely a choice or a disease, it is still a condition that can be changed or even cured. If this ad inspires even just a few people to eat a little differently, to seek some outside help or even to just start understanding the possible severity of their situation, then it is worth angering a few people on Twitter. Sometimes the shock factor that an ad like this might generate is exactly what is needed to inspire people to make the changes that they are desperately in need of.

In reality, this campaign is no different from trigger warnings adorning cigarette packaging, unit recommendations on alcohol bottles or any awareness campaign that targets health issues and personal choice for that matter. The sad reality is that individuals suffering from mental health issues associated with their weight are going to have those problems irrespective of what poster ads they walk past on their morning commute. Cancer Research’s intentions with the ad campaign need to be taken for their original purposes and we need to be treating eating disorders as the serious illnesses that they very often are.

Isabel Ralphs