Cancer Research UK's latest campaign is at the centre of an online controversy around fat shaming. The campaign, which sees the word 'obesity' appear on the front of cigarette packets in the place of brand names and health warnings, is one of the more impactful examples of billboard advertising (opens in new tab) we've seen.
In a blog post (opens in new tab), Cancer Research UK explains the thinking behind the divisive ads by revealing that obese people outnumber smokers two to one, and that excess weight causes more cases of certain cancers than smoking. "The campaign compares smoking and obesity to show how policy change can help people form healthier habits, not to compare tobacco with food," the charity says.
But despite Cancer Research UK's reasoning, the campaign has quickly provoked an intense backlash from the public. Web developer Ken Lynch criticised the campaign by describing it as a "new low" in a widely shared post on Twitter.
Linking obesity with cigarette style branding is a new low @cjsnowdon pic.twitter.com/Y84OHtYIdxJune 29, 2019
This tweet lead to a flurry of back-and-forth replies, where people either voiced their disgust with the campaign or defended it. A common theme running through the responses was that Cancer Research UK was fat shaming obese people.
This is sickening @cr_uk . Do you not think you did enough damage with your last anti-obesity campaign? How many more people's lives do you intend to ruin. Do you know what kills? Stigma. Also, take a freaking stats class.June 29, 2019
This is fucking ridiculous. Shaming does NOT help anyone! Ever.June 29, 2019
Obesity is a major risk factor for cancer. Fact. Whilst malicious fat shaming helps nobody, normalising obesity by telling everyone it's ok is dangerous. I think this as campaign is fair enoughJuly 3, 2019
This isn't the first time Cancer Research UK has been accused of fat shaming, either. Last year, a similarly hard-hitting campaign from the charity caused offence when it invited people to guess that obesity was the biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking.
Right, is anyone currently working on getting this piece of shit CancerResearchUK advert removed from everywhere? Is there something I can sign? How the fucking fuck is this okay? pic.twitter.com/b7eU7lulmsFebruary 28, 2018
At the heart of the controversy is the confusion around who Cancer Research UK is targeting. In a tweet (opens in new tab), user Ann Coates say that the ads will cause "nothing but harm" for obese people. But the charity insists that it isn't punching down with these billboards. Instead, it wants to use them to go after the government in order to implement a policy change that will halve childhood obesity rates by 2030, and place restrictions on adverts for junk food on TV and online.
Why are we comparing obesity to smoking in our new adverts? Because obesity is a cause of cancer too, and we need the government to take action right now to protect future generations. Learn more about the impact of ending junk food advertising to kids: https://t.co/sydwNrQL36 pic.twitter.com/NFEzRbl35DJuly 2, 2019
Speaking in the blog post, Cancer Research UK's prevention expert, professor Linda Bauld, added: "There isn't a silver bullet to reduce obesity, but the huge fall in smoking over the years – partly thanks to advertising and environmental bans – shows that Government-led change works. It was needed to tackle sky-high smoking rates, and now the same is true for obesity.
"The world we live in doesn't make it easy to be healthy and we need Government action to fix that, but people can also make changes themselves; small things like swapping junk food for healthier options and keeping active can all add up to help reduce cancer risk."
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