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NHS medical director Professor Stephen Powis has called on social media companies to protect young and vulnerable users by banning irresponsible and unsafe celebrity endorsements.
Professor Powis warned that paid-for promotion of products including diet pills, detox teas and appetite-suppressant sweets on social media sites, could have a damaging impact on physical and mental health. He is urging celebrities to act responsibly when taking payment from companies to push products with health implications.
The intervention follows a series of high profile concerns raised about suicides and self-harm of young people linked to advertising and social media.
The Science and Technology Committee has also concluded in the House of Commons that social media companies must be subject to a legal duty of care to help protect young people’s health and wellbeing when accessing their sites, with 70% of 12-15 year olds having an online profile, according to Ofcom.
Last week, the Competition and Markets Authority announced a clamp-down on celebrities who do not clearly label their posts as being paid-for advertisements but there are few rules around what they can promote.
Research from the National Citizens Service shows that at least one in four young people say that their appearance is the most important thing to them, while over half of girls feel pressure to be thinner and a third of boys think they should be more muscular.
Professor 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.
“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 firms 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.
“Promoting potentially damaging products with no clinical advice or health warning can be really detrimental to someone’s physical and mental health, and with pressure on young people to live up to idealised images greater than they ever have been, it’s too often families and the health service who are left to pick up the pieces.”