The topic of obesity and how it does or does not affect a person's overall health is a bit of a touchy one. Doctors are moving away from using the old height/weight charts because they've been proven inaccurate, but obesity does come with some health risks. Research is pretty divided about what, or how high, those risks are.
Science is still arguing about what contributes to obesity itself, but we know it's far more than just over-eating. There are plenty of obese people who actually under eat, but still do not lose weight. Does that mean we shouldn't be warned about health risks associated with obesity? At what point does that warning become shaming?
Honestly, we're not sure.
Comedian Sofie Hagen is pretty sure she knows, though. At least when it comes to ads recently put up around the UK. In her eyes, they are absolutely too far and fat shaming as opposed to helpful or educational. Cancer Research UK, the organization responsible for the ads, disagrees. The public is pretty divided.
Sofie shared her thoughts on Twitter (language warning):
Cancer Research UK spoke up to defend the ad.
(1/2) Hi Sofie, our campaign isn’t meant to make anyone feel bad about their weight or make anyone think negatively about people who are overweight or obese. Our aim is to raise awareness of the link between cancer and obesity…— Cancer Research UK (@CR_UK) February 28, 2018
Seems pretty cut and dry, doesn't it? It's not. The research showed a correlation - but the organization keeps saying "cause". Why does that one little word matter?
Well, let's change the wording. Instead of saying "obesity causes cancer and we know this because there's a correlation" let's say "coughing causes lung cancer and we know this because there's a correlation." The first thing most people would ask was why were these people coughing in the first place.
We've already talked about how lots of obese people under eat, but Cancer Research UK is pushing diets and reduced calories as the answer to helping prevent cancer. Dieting and reducing calories will absolutely help some people control their obesity, but not everyone. Why are these people who aren't over-eating obese to begin with? To say obesity causes cancer seemed to be a stretch to a lot of people who want information, not shame and fear.
Sofie responded directly:
What your campaign is doing is so incredibly damaging, that I can't even begin to describe it in only 280 characters. There are many people who have tweeted me their articles about it, try reading those. There is no excuse for you to have this campaign up.— Sofie Hagen (@SofieHagen) February 28, 2018
And you can absolutely go away in terms of trying to excuse it. Society viewing fatness as a negative thing is a thing that kills more than the cancer that you MIGHT get due to MAYBE something to do with you POSSIBLY weighing MORE than a CERTAIN weight POSSIBLY MAYBE.— Sofie Hagen (@SofieHagen) February 28, 2018
And BMI has been debunked DECADES ago. It's not a valid way of measuring anything. On the contrary, DIETING has been proved TIME AND TIME again to be one of the worst thing you can do to your body. Your campaign is so damaging and fatshaming and I really hope it gets taken down.— Sofie Hagen (@SofieHagen) February 28, 2018
People spoke up almost immediately, and you might be surprised where certain people fell in this debate. Take a look.
Not in any way trying to start a fight but what is the issue here? If there is statistical evidence to suggest a link, what is wrong with informing the public of this evidence?— Jim Clack (@jimboclack) February 28, 2018
You do understand that they are called cancer RESEARCH uk for a reason. And not cancer WILD ACCUSATIONS uk— Lewis Stacey (@Lewistacey) March 2, 2018
As someone who has struggled with my weight all of my life I honestly don’t find the add offensive in the slightest. It is not fat shaming. No one is being shamed here. The ad is merely a statement of fact based on the latest medical research.— Craig B (@CKB3004) March 1, 2018
Even medical professionals chimed in - and they were divided, too!
As an anaesthetist I think there is a balance between informing and empowering people and alienating and shaming them. This campaign leans to the latter, unfortunately.— Karen (@Dr_KM_) March 1, 2018
I’m not down with the concept that it’s okay to definitely have some people have a negative reaction for the possibility of some others having a positive one. This campaign has been around a while and I’m not seeing many people pipe up about how it specifically empowered them.— Karen (@Dr_KM_) March 1, 2018
Why not flip this campaign? " An active lifestyle and healthy diet can reduce the causes of cancer." They're we go. Informative and motivating but not as shaming. Let's find good solutions instead of wasting time arguing.— Squiddy (@miss_squiddy) March 1, 2018
But it *is* more complicated than "obesity causes cancer". Sunlight (UV rays), painting, pickled food (like pickled onions!), furniture making, red-meats, etc all cause cancer & are higher on the list than Obesity.— sarah smizz [スミッツ] (@smizz) March 2, 2018
Agree. Tho technically obesity is a risk factor, & tobacco smoking (for example) is a substance that *is* carcinogenic. There's a difference. It's important that people know that being over-weight, just like drinking alcohol, can increase your chance of developing cancer. BUT— sarah smizz [スミッツ] (@smizz) March 2, 2018
There's ways of approaching it that are more productive than just being like OBESITY - you know? It's not fair to anyone and it's not that helpful. It's our roles as Healthcare professionals to ensure folks have the right support+info to tackle it— sarah smizz [スミッツ] (@smizz) March 2, 2018
While their discourse was aimed at seeking a resolution, others who spoke up were less helpful. In fact, much of the comments section was downright abusive.
She's why women shouldn't be allowed to have social media— Elliott (@ElliottEdie35) March 2, 2018
Put it this way, it won't be called "The Hunger Games" with this land whale.— Red Issue (@RedIssue) March 4, 2018
Molly had a pretty solid idea about the ads aims.
This post isn’t for the ‘fat’ people who are healthy. It’s for the people who are obese and do not take care of themselves. That’s who they’re trying to warn. Idk if there was a way for me to reduce my risk for cancer, I would want to know. (2/2)— Molly (@mollymiraculous) March 2, 2018
We'd like your thoughts. Did Cancer Research go too far with the ad? Is saying obesity causes cancer a lie that encourages shaming and abuse like what we saw above? Or do you think it's okay and they're just relaying public health risk information in a way the public will understand easily?
H/T: Twitter, Bored Panda