Celebrities have a moral duty to stop promoting dangerous diet fads

 

Little could I have imagined what a chord would strike when I raised the subject of celebrities endorsing so-called quick-fix diet and detox products via social media in PMQs. At the time of writing, the video of my question and the prime minister’s responsive answer has received 214,000 views, which highlights just how much concern there is about this issue.

Some celebs (namely those with millions of followers) are reportedly being paid more than £100,000 to promote just one post relating to such a product on Instagram.

As a result of these sponsorship deals with high-profile celebrities, quick-fix products such as detox teas and appetite-suppressing lollipops have surged in popularity as thousands of young people, mainly girls and women, buy them in an attempt to follow the holy grail of a perfect body image.

Admittedly, views of my PMQ were greatly boosted by the actress Jameela Jamil getting behind the issue on her own Twitter account when she saw the issue raised in the chamber. She called on the female journalists who had previously told her to “stop making such a big deal about celebrities flogging this toxic stuff” to think again, saying: “SEE HOW SERIOUS IT IS?!”

All credit to Jameela who has started a petition to stop celebs from being paid to promote toxic diet products on social media.

The big concern is that far from benefiting the body, many of these products can have a harmful impact.

Quick-fix weight loss supplements often contain ingredients that can trigger stomach irritation and diarrhoea. Some girls have reportedly been on the loo for hours as a result of the senna content of some products, which is a natural laxative.

And others have allegedly had unwanted pregnancies linked to the laxative effects of a detox tea product, with the laxative interfering with the contraceptive pill (and this was not stated in the celebrity endorsement).

The stark reality is that research shows at least one in four young people say their appearance is the most important thing to them, while more than half of girls feel pressure to be thinner and a third of boys think they should be more muscular. And although eating disorders can affect people of all ages, they are predominantly found in younger people, especially females, and thousands of them are turning to Instagram and social media for advice about food and body image concerns.

Stephen Powis, the national medical director of NHS England, said that endorsements of products like diet pills, detox teas and appetite suppressant sweets could have a damaging impact on those who look up to the celebrities who endorse them. He is calling for social media sites to ban the promotion of any posts that could cause physical and mental harm. I would reiterate this call and also plead with celebrities who know they have the power to influence young people to realise that they have a moral duty to refuse endorsements that might cause harm, no matter how lucrative they may be.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has warned that he will use the law to force social media companies, including Facebook, Google and Twitter, to remove inappropriate content and there is an opportunity to address this issue in the forthcoming Internet Safety Strategy white paper on online harms. I hope that recommendations from the recent digital, culture, media and sport select committee inquiry into fake news/disinformation, on which I sat, will feed into this.

These include a call for robust legislation giving powers to act against those who fail to take down harmful content, tough sanctions for those who don’t comply and a call for an independent regulator to oversee this sector.

In the meantime I have received many private messages as a result of raising this whole issue relating to celebrity-endorsed adverts for weight loss aids, pleased that at last someone is taking this issue seriously. Frankly I’m appalled at what I am hearing and it highlights starkly that something must be done.

 

Read my article on The Times website here

See my PMQs question here