Once again, Cancer Research UK is plastering the nation with billboards encouraging people to “know” that obesity causes cancer. A lot of the time I think I should be grateful to CRUK, as I’m sure they’ve been behind a whole lot of my treatment, but even before I got ill, there were a couple of things that caused me concern:

  1. The campaign ‘Research shows that vaping is far less harmful than smoking’. Maybe, but is that saying it’s “healthy”? CRUK Statement
  2. When I cancelled all my charitable direct debits on my cancer diagnosis, most other charities said ‘sorry to hear that, and hope treatment goes well’, but CRUK sent a very standard email and didn’t acknowledge the reason at all.

Last year, CRUK created a campaign focused on ‘Obesity‘, which I found really problematic, and this was echoed by a number of public or medical figures, including GP Margaret McCartney, who noted that CRUK defined ‘success’ as raising awareness of the association between cancer/obesity, and that this only increased by 2% in their pilot campaign. ‘Raising awareness’ without any associated behavioural change doesn’t seem particularly helpful to me, and if CRUK are going to get involved in such campaigns, as their own research demonstrated ‘combining the effect of eating more fruit and vegetables and less processed meat, for example, would easily outweigh the risk carried by obesity’.

I was shortlisted for a patient involvement role at CRUK, and they asked me to talk about the 2018 obesity campaign – should they have taken such a ‘bold step’? and here’s some of the kind of things I said: 

And now there’s a new campaign – has it just been written to get the PR coverage, and ‘fat people’ are just collateral damage?

I am particularly concerned about the link with Slimming World … an organisation that helped me lose 3+ stone, and then gain 7+, which is how I got involved with anti-diet groups, which have more of a focus on healthy habits, and learning the reasons that cause you to eat, rather than fixed ‘plans’ that are guaranteed to backfire, or take over your life with their rules and regulations. Since being involved with Beyond Chocolate I have stopped putting weight on (including during 2 rounds of chemotherapy + hormonal therapy), although I’ve not lost any – but if I look back at what I’ve been dealing with over the past 10 years or so … there’s a lot to turn one to comfort eating!

Part of the reason for my concern has been written by Natasha Devon, in that overweight people (and this is something that is very visible) end up being blamed for e.g. the problems in the NHS (a complex, multifactorial problem, especially the reduced budgets given by the government):

Not only does it add more gravitas to a burgeoning multi-billion pound diet industry with a 95 per cent failure rate, it fuels eating disorders and encourages the public to consider themselves ‘visual doctors’, firing casual micro-aggressions in the direction of fat people under the guise of ‘concern’ for their ‘health’.

Within cancer groups there has been a whole lot of debate as to whether this campaign is a) necessary b) helpful. I don’t think anyone is arguing if the research shows a definitive link then CRUK shouldn’t be running a campaign in this area, but a) causation hasn’t been proven b) this kind of message doesn’t help with behavioural change.

A great response:




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WEIGHT STIGMA CAUSES SHAME, NOT HEALTH// ?? CW: fat-phobia, anti-fat bias, weight stigma, ‘obesity’ ? I’m sure you all remember @cr_uk infamous OB_S_ _Y campaign from last year which compared body weight to smoking – it came under fire for painting an overly simplistic relationship between weight and cancer, using causative language (when we can only ascertain associations) and placing blame on individuals which increases stigmatising attitudes and can cause physical and psychological harm. ? Well, today CRUK launched the updated 2019 version of their campaign, which, to all intents and purposes – is exactly the same (swipe to see a picture) ? Before we go any further, I just want to make it clear that this is a critique of this particular campaign, not of the overall work that CRUK are doing to raise research funds + support those affected by this devastating disease. That work is important and appreciated. ? But this campaign, is a total shit show. ? This is currently a bit of a brain dump + I’m working with colleagues to actually *do* something. We will need your help though, so stay tuned. ? But for now, let’s start with what CRUK were *intending* to do with this campaign, and then we’ll look at how it misses the mark. 1?? Raise the awareness of ‘obesity being a cause of cancer’ (their words here, not mine), similar to smoking. 2?? Influence policy makers So let’s look at these a little closer. · First up, comparing body weight to smoking is entirely unjustifiable; smoking is a behaviour (+ shouldn’t be shamed either!), whereas weight is an outcome of many, complex, intersecting variables (many of which we don’t have control over) – our genetics, socioeconomic status and trauma, just to name a few. People can’t easily change their weight. It’s unforgivable to blame individuals for their body size – shame does not promote health. · Instead, it encourages stereotypes of people in bigger bodies, making those individuals a target for harassment, prejudice, + discrimination. · This has been shown to lead to: low-self esteem/confidence, negative body image, feelings of worthlessness + loneliness, suicidal thoughts + acts, (keep reading in comments)

A post shared by Laura Thomas, PhD, RNutr (@laurathomasphd) on


*Added Sunday* To note that I have never been ‘skinny’, but I have been very fit/active – have run 2 x 10k (fastest 1hr 6 mins), walked the Moonwalk, love circuit training, continue to try and do my prehab/rehab, cook a lot of my meals from scratch, don’t drink fizzy drinks (thanks gynae surgeon for assuming that I do) – I had a couple of major illnesses in 2004/2007 (and then cancer in 2017/2019) which have had huge impacts on my energy levels/mental health… you never know when something might hit…

Also, if diets “worked”, and we’ve had commercial diets since, what, the 1950s, why are people heavier now than before diets….

“A cultural fixation on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.”

Naomi Wolf

*End of Edit*

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*Added Monday* Thought for the Day from Good Morning Scotland

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