Medical director for England calls for end to ‘irresponsible and unsafe’ endorsements
NHS England’s national medical director is urging social media companies to ban “irresponsible and unsafe” adverts for health products of dubious value by celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Katie Price.
Prof Steve Powis wants the likes of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to stop running ads in which famous people are paid to market diet pills, detox teas and appetite-suppressing sweets.
“Highly influential celebrities are letting down the very people who look up to them by peddling products which are at best ineffective and at worst harmful,” he said.
“Social media firms have a duty to stamp out the practice of individuals and companies using their platforms to target young people with products known to risk ill health.”
NHS chiefs are worried endorsements by celebrities will lead to some of their many followers on social media using products that can pose a risk to their physical or mental wellbeing, despite claiming to improve health.
For example, weight-loss supplements often contain ingredients that can lead to an irritated stomach or diarrhoea and make contraception less effective. They can also offer false hope that someone unhappy with their body shape will be able to change their appearance by using them.
Vicky Pattison, who appeared in Geordie Shore and Ex on the Beach, has used Instagram several times to advertise Boombod weight-loss products to her 4.2 million followers. The product promises a “simple, quick and tasty way to lose weight without feeling hungry. Each 10-calorie shot contains a unique vitamin blend and a natural fibre that works to reduce your appetite and is clinically proven to aid weight loss.”
Price promoted Boombod to her 1.9 million Instagram followers twice last year. After she won Celebrity Big Brother in 2015 she advertised Bootea, a “natural” tea marketed as an aid to detox and losing weight. At that time it contained senna, a laxative. The version of Bootea sold in the UK no longer contains senna, but Bootea still markets the laxative version in Europe.
Powis’s intervention comes as pressure grows on social media operators to be more responsible about deciding what content to allow. There are fears that content about self-harm, eating disorders and suicide can normalise such behaviours and even encourage some people to act. On Thursday, the science and technology select committee said companies should have a legal duty of care imposed on them.
Lauren Goodger from The Only Way is Essex has used Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, to promote Boombod as well as three other health-focused products: the Skinny Coffee Club, Nutribuddy UK and Protein World.
Gemma Collins, who also appeared in Towie and has 1.2 million Instagram followers, has used the platform to endorse Boombod.
Powis said: “If a product sounds like it is too good to be true then it probably is. The risks of quick-fix weight loss far outweigh the benefits, and advertising these products without a health warning is damaging and misleading.
“Promoting potentially damaging products with no clinical advice or health warning can be really detrimental to someone’s physical and mental health.
“With pressure on young people to live up to idealised images greater than they have ever been, it’s too often families and the health service who are left to pick up the pieces.”
He demanded social media platforms remove posts they are hosting that advertise potentially harmful products, as well as banning promotions of them in future.
Kardashian, who has 126 million Instagram followers, used the platform to promote Flat Tummy meal replacement shakes last month. She said she had used them for two days and already felt better. She has also previously advertised lollipops that suppress appetite.
Her sister Kourtney has also recently promoted Flat Tummy Tea to her 72.9m Instagram followers.
The Royal Society for Public Health accused celebrities and social media platforms of putting profits before consumers’ health.
“There are so many bogus and snake oil weight loss products on the market today, which either have dubious evidence to back them up or are a waste of money,” said Duncan Stephenson, the RSPH’s director of external affairs.
“It is shameful that major advertisers, leading celebrities – many of who are role models for young people – together with advertisers and social media platforms are complicit in exploiting and potentially putting people’s health at risk, simply to further line their pockets.”
Kitty Wallace, a trustee of the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation, said: “The bombardment of idealised body images is fuelling a mental health and anxiety epidemic in young people. If celebrities will not step up to protect their young fans then companies such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter should be compelled to take down these damaging posts.”
Daniel Dyball, the executive director of the Internet Association, which represents companies including Facebook and Google, said: “All advertising in the UK is regulated under the Advertising Standards Authority’s rules, including internet advertising.
“Internet companies rigorously observe the ASA’s rules and have strong responsible advertising policies.
“Our members are focused on their responsibilities around advertising aimed at children and the advertising of health products, as well as the recently published ASA guidance on influencer advertising.”
Date: February 6, 2019
Source: The Guardian