With the recent years’ boom of influencers and promoters on social media sites, predominantly Instagram and Twitter, the NHS medical director Professor Stephen Powis’ call for a ban on misleading social media advertisements of dangerous products such as detox teas, diet pills and appetite-suppressants, seems a step in the right direction for the regulation of advertisements and a halt on the promotion of dangerous diet products.
The Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report found that almost 70% of women and girls believe the media contributes to their appearance anxiety. The National Citizens Service also found that at least one in four young people say that their appearance is the most important thing to them. Both worrying statistics to consider, and a further reason why advertisements on diet products should be regulated.
As we become increasingly overwhelmed with conflicting external pressures of ‘what we should eat’ and ‘how we should look’ from the media, professionals, celebrities and Influencers, many of us, in turn, are becoming out of touch with our own bodies and identity. This is becoming detrimental to mental health and our relationship with food and body image. The unrealistic beauty standards set by the media, which permeates around us in our day-to-day lives, disconnect us with who we are and contribute to issues with body image and the influx in eating disorders, body dysmorphia and many other issues with mental health.
The NHS’ warning comes in light of concerns for the dangerous effects to health that these diet products pose. Many ‘detox teas’ are sold without clearly informing people of the presence of the herbal laxative, Senna, which causes diarrhoea - the ‘detoxing’ effect they promote. Used in excessive quantities, this laxative can be dangerous. The NHS would not prescribe this laxative in these quantities - the public are able to buy as much as they wish and use them long-term. Some detox teas have even been shown to interact with contraception. The NHS England’s involvement in the debate around the advertisement of these products is optimistic and seeks for a necessary change in advertisement standards that puts the public’s health as priority, offers transparency from promoters and stops the NHS dealing with the consequences of these dangerous products.
Kim Kardashian’s recent post in January, at a prime time for the promotion of diet products to reduce you ‘bloat’ and achieve ‘weight loss’ after indulgence over the Christmas period, promoted Flat Tummy Co. shakes, claiming they helped her to get her ‘tummy back to flat’. She promotes a product that acts as a meal replacement, a particularly damaging product for those with eating disorders. The worrying association of these products with a lean stomach is misleading for young people who buy these products on the premise they will achieve a stomach like hers.
More worryingly, these paid-promotions of diet products do not advise the buyer of what they contain and how they work. Merely, they simply focus on, for example a detox teas’, ability to rid you of the ‘toxins’ in your body-providing you with a slim, and toned stomach. In reality, our bodies naturally expel toxins and the laxative product in these teas proves damaging to your bowels through long-term usage. As Professor Stephen Powis states, ‘The risks of quick-fix weight-loss far outweigh the benefits, and advertising these products without a health warning is damaging and misleading’.
Ultimately, the NHS’ call for a ban on the advertisement of these unhealthy and dangerous products is a positive step for change in the realm of social media. A push for more responsible advertising and transparency will certainly help to cultivate a safer social media space for young people that pushes influencers and celebrities to use their platforms positively and responsibly.