A wide-ranging debate has broken out over whether the new Cancer Research UK obesity campaign is fat shaming
Cancer Research UK has been accused of fat shaming in a social media storm over its latest obesity campaign.
Billboard adverts highlighting that obesity is the biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking has caused offense among body positive activists.
Danish comedian Sofie Hagen, who has lived in London since 2012, hit out on Twitter and said the campaign was “incredibly damaging”.
She criticised the campaign in a series of tweets, including saying: "So hey, hate fat people. But admit that you hate fat people. That whole ‘It is unhealthy’ speech is embarrassing and it’s getting old now. You don’t want us to be healthy, you want us to hate ourselves. Because you hate us. Own up to your bigotry."
Her criticism was backed by a slew of supporters who argued that the campaign was fat shaming.
However, the charity said too few people are aware of the link between obesity and cancer.
Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert, said: “The aim of the charity’s campaign is to raise awareness of the fact that obesity is the biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking. 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 that obesity is a cause of cancer. Cancer Research UK has a duty to put that message in the public domain.
“In addition to raising awareness, the campaign aims to help stem the rising tide of obesity by urging the government to create a climate that makes healthier food choices easier for everyone.”
The debate has highlighted some of the issues around the way doctors and health bodies are attempting to tackle obesity.
Many critics argue that while the health risks of obesity are very real, the way it is talked about doesn’t help people to manage their weight.
Nick Finer, honorary clinical professor at University College London, said many consider it legitimate to blame people for being overweight.
"If somebody falls off a boat into the water and they can't swim and they drown, nobody says 'it's your fault, you should have held your breath',” he said.
"They happen to be in an environment where it's very easy to drown. We're in an environment now where it's very easy to over-acquire calories and energy."
Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, however, said doctors need to be able to tell people they are obese.
He said: "Obesity is such an issue that it has to be pointed out to the person who is obese that they are obese.
"If they want to continue to be obese and are happy with it then so be it, but it has to be said.
"I think fat shaming is a disaster, but that is a different ball game from being told, quite sensibly, by people that you are obese and you have an uncertain future if you don't do something about it."