04 February 2019

Children's Mental Health Week: Should influencer ads for 'diet aids' be banned on social media?

After over-indulging during the festive period, you might have decided to adopt healthier habits in the new year - and you aren't alone. An estimated 26 million people embarked on a health kick trying to lose weight in January 2019. 

If you're an avid social media user, you might have noticed an influx in celebrities and 'Instagram influencers' endorsing various weight loss products. From 'slim soups' and 'appetite suppressing lollipops', to 'tummy teas', the platform is rife with reality stars and models claiming to have reaped the benefits of what are in fact largely laxative-inducing food and drink items. 

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS medical director, argues these products have a damaging effect on the physical and mental health of young people who may be accessing these adverts on social media website on their mobile phones. 

He is also urging influential celebrities to act "responsibly".

Instagram's own guidelines state that users need to be at least 13 years old before creating an account, prompting the question: Is this too young an age to be exposed to content promoting quick-fix weight loss methods? 

Prof 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 outweigh the benefits, and advertising these products without a health warning is damaging.

"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.

"Social media companies have a duty to stamp out the practice of individuals and companies using their platform to target young people with products known to risk ill health," he said.

Research from the National Citizens Service shows that at least one in four young people say that their appearance was the most important thing to them, with over half of girls feeling the pressure to be thinner, and a third of boys thinking they should be more muscular.

"Taking any substance which impacts the body, without proper medical advice and support, is a risk," said Prof Powis.

"Cosmetic treatments and get-thin-quick products which are readily and increasingly available and promoted can be harmful if not used correctly."

What do you think? Should adverts for 'diet aids' be banned on social media? Let us know in the comments section.