Why I’m Never Again Donating To Cancer Research UK

Well, this probably seems uncharitable, but here are my reasons why I will never again be donating to Cancer Research UK (CRUK).

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re a friend of mine, and you’re planning on running, swimming, knitting in a bath of custard etc in future and need sponsorship, I will happily donate to a charity in recognition of your efforts. But not to CRUK. You can pick another charity. You can choose one doing great work in cancer treatment or care or awareness or research; Macmillan, Marie Curie, Breast Cancer Now, there are hundreds! Just not Cancer Research UK/Race For Life/Stand Up To Cancer, which are many faces of the same charity.

Why? What’s wrong with Cancer Research UK?

Maybe it’s just me, but I’d hope that a charity which puts research at the forefront of its identity (it’s in the name, for heavens’ sake!) would understand the need to not make wild claims. I’d hope they understood the difference between causation and correlation – it’s usually taught in secondary schools! Here’s a really useful TED talk explaining the danger of mixing correlation with causation:

So we can see from the example given in the video (if you’re reading this on mobile data and don’t want to watch it!) is that just because the incidence of drownings increases when the sales of ice creams increase (a correlation), does not mean that we can infer ice creams are responsible for drownings (causation). Or conversely, decide that drownings are responsible for ice-cream sales!

We can suspect one leads to the other. We can theorise what might cause this, but without further evidence it is merely a theory. It may be difficult to prove. That doesn’t mean you can ignore the lack of proof and state it as fact for the sake of convenience. Furthermore we must not forget to look for other influencing factors which might explain both results, like the weather, in the TED example.

So, where does Cancer Research UK come into this?

CRUKs 2018 OB_S__Y is a cause of cancer ad campaign.

When CRUK released their ad campaign last year stating, quite categorically, that obesity causes cancer, I was a bit concerned. I knew of the link between being of higher weight and increased risk of certain cancers (and decreased risk of others that we rarely hear about!), but there has never been proven causation. Yet CRUK were happy to state it.

Wait, obesity isn’t a cause of cancer?

No one (and there’s been plenty of research!) has yet proven that obesity causes cancer. It is possible that there is a causal link, of course. The theories may be spot on. I don’t deny that. But you’d hope a charity spending hard-won donations, and with ‘research’ in their name, would be a bit more responsible and careful not to overstate a theory as fact? It’s an important distinction.

As with the TED analogy, research has suggested that common factors could be responsible for the connection. Genetics are particularly suspect. Did you know tall people are more likely to get cancer than short people? Don’t see them putting that on a bus shelter, or claiming that height causes cancer. It’s an accepted correlation. Strangely CRUK don’t feel the need to make anyone feel crap about being tall…

But being fat’s not the same as being tall!

“But people can’t help their height!” I hear the virtue-signallers cry! “It’s not the same! Fat people can lose weight!” (with a in implied side-order of “they’re just lazy/stupid/lack willpower!”).

Except if you’re overweight, and have always been overweight, come from a line of people who are and have always been overweight, and have repeatedly watch them try and fail to lose weight, you know that while the maxims of ‘just lose weight’, ‘just eat less’, ‘just exercise more’ sound so deceptively simple in theory, they’re incredibly difficult in practice.

Of course, there’s always surgery, the one reliable intervention to lose weight – but if that’s so desirable, why wouldn’t we suggest tall people lop off a couple of inches to reduce their cancer risk? (I’m not suggesting that either!) There are significant risks associated with surgery, and significant downsides. It is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Yes. Pun intended. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that there’s a lot more to being healthy than merely a BMI.

But obesity IS preventable! You just don’t want to hear the truth!

Many overweight people struggle with their weight their entire life. Many lose weight, only to put it all back on again and more, often over and over, getting bigger with every cycle. We know this, and we don’t fully understand why. But we’re beginning to understand that willpower and behaviour are probably only a small part of the puzzle, maybe as little as 5%, with many other factors coming into play .

If it was so easy, Slimming World and Weight Watchers would have gone out of business years ago. The fact of the matter is that their business model works precisely because most people don’t and can’t lose the weight and keep it off long term in our modern society. We know this. It’s a problem we’ve been trying to solve for years, and CRUK campaigning that obesity is a ‘preventable’ cause of cancer completely ignores this.

Every time I drove past one of the CRUK adverts last year it irritated me. I knew it was inaccurate, felt it was irresponsible, and I was frustrated that they were choosing to oversimplify a complex problem as a personal failing. I, and many others felt it insidiously feeds the narrative of blame and shame that is so common with obesity.

It allows those who don’t have a high BMI to feel just that bit more smug, just that bit more superior; safe in the knowledge that their predominantly genetic disposition to not be overweight is saving them from cancer, with the added implication that us fat people should really do something about it for the sake of our health…

Maybe they didn’t realise…?

Not everyone reacted as mildly as I did, of course…

But those ads didn’t quite push me to the point of saying never again will I be donating to Cancer Research UK. That only happened this week…

I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt last year. Maybe they didn’t realise? Perhaps they felt the shock factor they wanted to use outweighed the risks of that approach and misjudged it? Maybe in wanting to keep the message simple they went further than they should have in overstating the point, but have learned from it?

So, what happened next?

Firstly, don’t be tempted to read the responses Sofie Hagen received on Twitter. Let’s just say plenty of people decided to tell her she was wrong. Haters gonna hate and all that… We don’t need that kind of negativity!

The campaign garnered lots of attention, was widely accused of fat-shaming and stigmatising obesity, and lauded by others for ‘telling it like it is’ (or as we know, isn’t, but hey-ho). These comments mainly came from smug-thins who think it’s simple to solve the ‘obesity problem’; just regularly tell fat people how crap they are and they’re sure to take it on board…

It also prompted amusing but entirely predictable responses implying the only reason people are overweight is because they eat fast food… yawn. Never saw that one coming. Oh, wait. Yes we did. It’s exactly these kinds of lazy tropes and attitudes that such a campaign fuels and that we’re entirely sick of.

Didn’t anyone explain to CRUK where they’d gone wrong?

Of course! Aside from the discussions on Twitter and in the media, various organisations and experts connected to the study of obesity contacted CRUK to offer their services.

They told CRUK how the adverts were stigmatising and misleading. They explained how simply telling people with obesity that they’re at increased risk of cancer does nothing to help, but does everything to make people feel more marginalised. Experts met with CRUK to explain how a more useful and sensitive campaign could be launched in future…

So, what happened this week?

Cancer Research UK's latest ad campaign - comparing obesity to smoking.

This week, CRUK went one further with this ad campaign.

Cigarette packets branded with “Obesity is a cause of cancer too”. Eyecatching and emotive, certainly. Accurate and helpful? Not so much.

Marvellous. They’ve taken on board precisely …erm… nothing at all from last year’s campaign feedback!?

Or perhaps they enjoyed the publicity last time?

Good grief, I feel sorry for the people who gave up smoking and gained weight as a result. They must feel like they can’t do right for doing wrong! They’re probably having their nicotine addiction triggered by the enormous images of cigarette packets, all while wanting a cigarette to deal with the stress of finding out that they’re doomed to get cancer…

Of course, the media reported the release like this:

Google News search for 'cancer obesity' showing misleading headlines and the standard 'headless fat body' image

With the word ’cause’ prominently repeated, with images of fast food and headless fat bodies galore – despite organisations such as the European Association for the Study of Obesity and The World Obesity Federation campaigning widely against such reporting and providing and free usable non-stigmatising images… Here we go again. Entirely predictable. Blame and shame. Emotive stuff.

There was a swift backlash. The National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care West (what a title!) wrote this great article:

Only this time there’s no room for the benefit of doubt; CRUK know these campaigns are hurtful, and they clearly don’t care.

And then, despite the complaints, CRUK continued the narrative this morning by tweeting this:

What, are we just pointing out random statistics we observe now? No. Clearly CRUK has decided this is the hill they want to die on; might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. If you don’t like it, go chew some obesity gum or puff on your obesity inhaler… Oh, wait…

Cancer Research UK Budget

Here’s how much CRUK spends in a year.

Caner Research UK's 2017/18 Budget spend by sector (total £652m)

It’s a lot. A sizeable amount is spent on research. So far so good. But when £43 million pounds in 2017/18 was spent on ‘information and policy’ (admittedly, it’s only half of what they spend on raising the cash in the first place…), and when that information and policy is based around misrepresenting that research, enough is enough.

What does CRUKs CEO have to say?

Luckily not all media outlets have responded to CRUKs latest campaign by parroting it blindly… Sky News at least have responded by reporting some of the criticisms the new campaign has received:

https://news.sky.com/story/cancer-research-advert-criticised-for-comparing-smoking-to-obesity

They even quote CRUK chief executive Michelle Mitchell:

“We have a responsibility to tell people about what might increase the risk of cancer.”

Yes, Michelle. Might. So why are you so ready to be certain that it does cause cancer when you’re plastering it on a poster?

I might never again donate to Cancer Research UK. Oh, actually sorry, no. I’m never again donating to Cancer Research UK. Put that on a poster, Michelle.

Help identify the top pregnancy research priorities

RAND Europe is seeking the views of a wide range of people across the UK to help identify the top pregnancy research priorities.

20wk scan pic - Help identify the top pregnancy research priorities

Click here to go to the survey!

This aims to identify the most important questions for future pregnancy research in the UK. It is part of a wider study on pregnancy research funding. You can choose what matters most to you from the suggested research questions.

Who is doing the survey?

It is part of a study being carried out by RAND Europe and was commissioned by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and The Wellcome Trust on behalf of the UK Clinical Research Collaboration (UKCRC).

What’s the study about?

The aims of the study are to review current research funding in the UK and to identify pregnancy research needs, priorities and gaps which should be addressed in the future. The researchers have organised the questions into different areas (e.g. managing conditions such as gestational diabetes, mental health, etc). Every question is optional: if you do not want to give an answer, you can just skip the question.

Why are they seeking so many different people’s views?

The researchers particularly want to hear from women and their partners, from researchers already conducting pregnancy research, and from health care professionals working in maternity services. Collating all these views is important when it comes to defining future priorities; this survey hopes to identify the research questions that are most relevant to and might affect different groups of people.

How long will it take to complete the survey?

If you provide answers to all questions, it should take you about 15 minutes to complete.

Where can I find more information?

Please click here to learn more about this study. If you have any other questions, you can email pregnancy@rand.org.

Thank you for taking the time to add your voice to this survey – there are actually a few research studies looking to hear from women right now – try this one and this one!

Pregnant in the last 5 years? Make your voice heard!

A new, massive survey run by the WRISK Project wants to hear from anyone who is or has been pregnant in the last 5 years. https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/WRISK

We need your voice!

Pregnancy is a time of information and advice overload. But is that information always delivered in the best and most helpful way? Are the messages consistent? Have you ever left a meeting with a health care professional feeling confused, or frustrated, or upset? Our voices and our experiences matter, so please, if you have a few minutes, follow the survey link and tell your story.

It’s great that we’re seeing so many researchers and surveys asking for our perspective lately; it’s the first step to making ourselves heard.

WRISK Recruitment advert - A woman is climbing onto a set of scales - text alongside asks to hear your experiences if you've been pregnant in the last 5 years

To take part, you need to be:

  • Over 16
  • Living in the UK
  • Have been pregnant in the last 5 years (or are currently pregnant)

What The WRISK Project/Survey Hopes To Achieve

This survey hopes to learn more about women’s experiences of advice and information given before and during pregnancy. It’s open to anyone who has been pregnant in the last 5 years, irrespective of how that pregnancy ended.

Women who are planning a pregnancy or who are pregnant receive many public health messages that are intended to guide their decision making. For example, they receive advice about what to eat, drink, how much they should weigh, and what medications they should or shouldn’t take. These messages are intended to improve outcomes for babies and mothers.

However, there is growing concern that messages do not always fully reflect or explain the evidence base underpinning them, and that negotiating the risk landscape can sometimes feel confusing, overwhelming, and disempowering. This may negatively affect women’s experiences of pregnancy and motherhood, and be exacerbated by a wider culture of parenting that tends to blame mothers for all less-than-ideal outcomes in their children.

WRISK Project

The survey is particularly keen to capture the experiences of women whose voices often go unheard; including BAME women, those receiving welfare benefits, and younger/older women.

The project will draw on your insights to understand and suggest improvements for the communication of risk messages in pregnancy.

Please share this survey amongst your networks and across all of your social media platforms. We want to reach as many people as possible!

Who Is/Are WRISK?

The WRISK Project is led by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), in conjunction with Cardiff University, funded by Wellcome. Membership of the project oversight group includes representation from many different organisations involved with pregnancy, which includes Big Birthas.

And remember, when making decisions about your care – always use your BRAIN (acronym explanation here!)

WRISK recruitment advert - have you been pregnant in the last 5 years?

Intended/Intending To Breastfeed?

Researchers from the universities of Manchester, Stirling, and Leeds Trinity are doing some research on the topic of breastfeeding.

They have designed a workbook intended to support bigger mums to breastfeed, and are looking for your feedback. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in…

They need participants who:

  • Are 24 or more weeks pregnant, with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or more and planning to breastfeed, or
  • Had a BMI of 30 or more at the start of their pregnancy, had a baby within the last 12 months and began and/or are currently breastfeeding.
  • Can read and understand English.

If you take part in this study, you will be asked to use the workbook and participate in an interview (which can be by phone or in person) or focus group two weeks later.

They’re planning for the interview or focus group to last approximately 1 hour and you will be given a high street voucher to say thank you for your time.

If you have any questions or comments or would like to take part in the study, please contact Stephanie Lyons (stephanie.lyons@manchester.ac.uk or 07706123929) and see the attached PDF for more information.