You might have seen my collages of young Bowel Cancer patients who led an active lifestyle and ate a good diet. The collages were in response to research showing an increase in Bowel Cancer in young people, which despite not doing any research into the cause attributed it to diet and lifestyle.
Well, I accept diet does play a part in Cancer but it really is not the whole story. While I believe it is important to raise awareness of risk factors we have to be really careful how we do that. This is a stark image used in Cancer Research UK’s campaign to raise awareness of obesity as a risk factor in Cancer.
So, what is wrong with this you might think? Yes, obesity is a cause of cancer but do we really need to link it to cigarette packets? I get it that smoking can be a factor in Cancer and the messages on cigarette packets about that risk were quite powerful. Cigarettes don’t cause obesity, and smoking is something people choose to do, a behaviour we can relatively easily consciously break. Yes, yes, some will tell you it’s an addiction and it’s not that easy to stop, sorry being married to someone who smoked heavily for many many years but also successfully quit I don’t buy any of that. If you really want to quit smoking you can.
You might say changing your eating habits is easy and requires the same will power as quitting smoking, I think however our relationship with food can be much more complex than that, we only have to look at eating disorders to realise this. Also sometimes there is a medical condition that has an impact on a person’s weight regardless of what they eat or how much they exercise. Or maybe a person leads a sedentary lifestyle because they physically cannot exercise due to chronic illness or disability.
Is it really healthy to blame people for their Cancer? It might be related to their weight but equally, it just might not. I mean there are plenty of us slimmer fitter types who get Cancer. I worry that laying blame in this way will mean people become too embarrassed to visit their doctor, or even talk about their health issues for fear of being blamed. I also worry that slim, fit, otherwise healthy people will think they are immune to Cancer, and won’t take symptoms seriously.
We need to take care to sensitively raise awareness of risk factors, it would be more helpful to have a campaign that lists the biggest risk factors but clearly states while they increase your risk they are not the only causes and that being low risk does not mean no risk.
Actually, you know what is actually the biggest problem here? Well, I think the biggest problem is that it reads “Obesity is a cause of Cancer too” when a simple change to “Obesity increases your risk of Cancer too” would make a huge difference to how this reads. Saying its a “Cause” indicates it is the reason for a person’s Cancer, when actually each individual case is different and for many, it is not the reason even if they are overweight. Whereas raising awareness that it increases your risk says everyone is at risk but those that are overweight are at increased risk, this also does not lay all the blame on one thing, and it is more factually correct in my opinion.
Cancer Research UK, please pull your campaign and rethink it to be more sensitive to Cancer patients and help ensure people don’t think they are not at risk just because they are not overweight! The wording and imagery of this campaign are wrong and insensitive on so many levels.