Cancer and the bacon sarnie

When Professor Martin Wiseman published his study on cancer this month, he had no intention of demonising the bacon sarnie. Here, he sets the record straight

When I saw the headline in the Daily Express about "food fascists", I wondered what the story was about. On closer examination, I realised that they were actually talking about my colleagues and me.

The subject of the writer's ire was the World Cancer Research Fund report on cancer prevention, which we published this month and which, in my role as project director, has taken some six years.

While the Express headline might have been the extreme, even the general press coverage seemed to give the impression that our supposed war on the humble bacon butty was the greatest threat to the British way of life in living memory.

As someone not used to being in the public eye, I found this rather bemusing. I wonder whether the people have an image of us as a bunch of puritans who want to ban bacon and who consume nothing but brown rice, water and vegetables in a desperate attempt to live to 110.

The truth, I'm afraid, is rather more prosaic. Like many people, I enjoy good food and wine and when it comes to healthy living, including reducing cancer risk, there are areas where I could do better.

But this report was never about wagging the finger at people, nor about making them feel scared or guilty about the fact that their lifestyle is not as healthy as possible. We have never attempted to tell people how they should live. If my next-door neighbours want to have bacon for breakfast, lunch and dinner, then that's up to them. What is important is that any decisions they make should be informed ones. Doctors have to give people information, some of it unwelcome, to help them decide between two treatment options, for example. But whether people like the facts or not, they need them if they are going to be able to make an informed choice. Our report has given them those facts.

Source - Independent