Immediate cessation of the stigmatising Cancer Research UK campaign

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We are asking Cancer Research UK to stop their harmful, misleading advertising campaign which draws a comparison between smoking, weight and cancer risk. We are a group of scientists, health care professionals and advocates who have written an open letter to CRUK which you can read here. We would like to see the following changes to Cancer Research UK’s communication on cancer risk and policy action:


Prioritise well-being over weight

Deliver health messages that are weight-inclusive and focus on empowering positive health-promoting changes for every body.

Campaigns that centre on people’s weight are not empowering. They feed into weight-related stigma (i.e. negative attitudes, stereotypes and behaviours experienced by people at a higher weight) that has increased at an alarming rate. Weight-focused campaigns are also less effective than weight-neutral campaigns at promoting health behaviour change.


Accurately communicate cancer risk

Stop misleading the public by stating “obesity is a ‘cause’ of cancer” and instead more accurately communicate risk, acknowledging that improvements to health, and reductions in cancer risk, can be made without changes to body weight.


In CRUK's campaign press release, they state: “excess weight causes around 1,900 more cases of bowel cancer than smoking in the UK each year” which we understand is based on this research. What they’ve omitted is that 12,250 cases of bowel cancer were attributed to dietary factors unrelated to weight. Furthermore, the research itself makes it clear that the main reason why so many cases are linked to weight status is simply because there are lots of people in the UK in higher BMI categories, while smoking rates have fallen. The research also highlights how sociodemographic factors drive differences in both weight and smoking.


We know that there is an association between higher weight and the risk of some cancers but ask CRUK to be clear in their communications that this relationship has not been proven to be causal and there is much still to be investigated. CRUK could also acknowledge that cancer and weight gain may have shared underlying risk factors. 


Make a commitment to end weight stigma 

We encourage CRUK to take the opportunity to build on their in-house commitments to diversity and inclusion by recognising weight stigma as a form of discrimination and taking action to reduce its impact, for example by exploring weight stigma as a barrier to cancer screening and treatment. This also means recognising that there will always be diversity of body weight and size, in the same way that there is a spectrum of height and shoe size, irrespective of any action of food marketing.


Refocus policy action on the social and environmental determinants of health

While we support action to improve the food environment, we ask CRUK to place more emphasis in their lobbying and awareness-raising work on the impact of poverty and social inequalities on health. In particular, the stark difference in cancer mortality between the most and least deprived areas.


Most importantly, change the focus of this campaign and publicly explain why

If the aim of a campaign is to educate people about cancer risk and change related policies then it could explicitly make links between government (in)action and cancer risk. As CRUK clearly realise, policy change for public health rarely comes without public pressure. A campaign could be run with the slogan 'Bad Politics Increases Cancer Risk' with posters and ads demonstrating to the public which policies need to change and why.

This campaign has negatively impacted people on a personal and emotional level, we want to make sure CRUK understands this impact. As such, we are calling on the public to sign in support of the cessation of this campaign. 


We are also inviting people to share their personal experiences with this campaign in the comments below if you feel comfortable doing so. We will pass these comments to CRUK once the petition closes. 



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