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Outgoing chief medical officer defends awareness campaign linking obesity to cancer

Cancer Research UK campaign uses images of cigarette packets with the slogan: Obesity is a cause of cancer too

Cancer Research UK campaign uses images of cigarette packets with the slogan: Obesity is a cause of cancer too

Someone looking at an besity causes cancer campaign poster
Picture: Press Association

England's outgoing chief medical officer (CMO) has defended a campaign to increase awareness of the link between obesity and cancer.

The Cancer Research UK campaign has been criticised for drawing a parallel between smoking and obesity by using images of a cigarette packet with the slogan: Obesity is a cause of cancer too.

But Dame Sally Davies, who steps down from her role as CMO in September, said people must be honest about the problem and not ‘pretend people are not overweight or obese’.

Obesity causes cancer, heart disease and obesity

Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, professor Davies said: ‘Obesity causes cancer, just like smoking. It causes heart disease, diabetes, so much suffering for the families.

‘We have to look at how we can help people not get obese.’

Asked if she felt sympathy for people who were ‘hurt and upset’ by the adverts, professor Davies added: ‘I do, but we also need to understand that it has a big impact on their health and on their mental health.

‘So we need much better weight management services for people that are easier to access in the community, not shaming and which say: “How do we help you do what you want to do?”’

Cheaper option for people is to eat unhealthy foods

Professor Davies added that she was worried that it is cheaper for people to eat unhealthy foods.

‘The poorer you are the higher the density of fast food outlets that don’t have healthy food,’ she said.

‘We have to make sure that poor people can afford a healthy grocery basket – and this means low in fat, low in calories and low in salt – and this is not easy at the moment.’

Professor Davies, who has been CMO for nine years, will take up her new role as master of Trinity College, Cambridge, in October.

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