Let us be clear, excess body weight is associated with 13 cancers including breast, bowel and kidney (link) this message needs to be communicated because we know that public awareness of the risks of being overweight and obesity risks are low (link).

Well, CRUK has certainly stirred up a hornet’s nest with their poster campaign on calling Obesity a cause of cancer. How uncomfortable for us all … given we are so used to posters of happy children eating junk food, big burger smiles, strong girder drinks and smiling supplement users.

Strong, and blunt messages about cancer just aren’t part of our warm and safe marketing landscape. The objections came fast and furious and even from unexpected quarters…. the comedian bellowing loud about ‘fat shaming’ all over twitter and echoed by the BBC, the Guardian journalist Christina Patterson (book due out soon) about the importance of state of mind versus science and risk and Margaret McCartney in the BMJ who flags how people with cancer have felt blamed and the potential harms caused by this campaign.

So four issues come to mind:

  1. Would CRUK have been wiser to use a more visual scientific image with some key mechanisms flagged. The Cancer Council WA used very large and very memorable posters that got right to the meat of the matter (see “grabbable gut” image below). In addition, our work from talking to women and alcohol gained credibility when some insight is given to the scientific mechanisms.
  2. What short memories we have. All those vivid posters about the harms of smoking were so clear (see images below). Collectively we all know smoking is bad health news….and the aim of those campaigns was never to outlaw smokers or create guilt but raise awareness, and they succeeded!
  3. Thinking positively, there is increasing evidence that decreasing excess weight can REDUCE risk of cancer. What we desperately need now are environments that support and help us to be active, market healthy foods and healthy portions.
  4. Finally, the health risks associated with obesity are too big to ignore. There is a duty of care to communicate what the experts have identified to the public. We do not believe in keeping science secrets – but we need to shame the causes of obesity not the people who suffer.



Professor Annie S. Anderson & Professor Bob Steele