Celebrities and influencers profiting from fad diet ads to young people on social media should have their accounts “stamped out”, the national medical director of NHS England has said.
Professor Stephen Powis said young people are being “bombarded” with images, ideas and advertising which project unattainable body types and lifestyles – but there is little accountability for the impact it has.
Half of girls now report feeling pressure to be thinner, while one in four people say their appearance is the most important thing to them, he warned.
He said the NHS was doing its utmost to help the one in 10 young people who are affected by mental health problems, but stressed it could not “keep putting out fires if some parts of society keep lighting matches”.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Prof Powis said: “Where celebrities and the platforms which promote them exploit this vulnerability by pushing products like laxative teas, diet pills and other get-thin-quick solutions, they are taking the health of our young people in their hands and should act with far greater responsibility.
“Online platforms should stamp out accounts which exploit this vulnerability, and ban adverts for products with a known health risk.”
He added: “Everyone, especially those engaging with young people like social media firms and celebrities who profit from them, have a duty of care to do more for our health and well-being.”
Last month, the Competition and Markets Authority announced a clampdown on the practice of celebrities being paid for endorsing products without disclosing they were being rewarded by the company.
Kim Kardashian West is among a host of famous faces who advertise diet pills, detox teas and appetite suppressants to their millions of social media followers.
Last month, the reality TV star promoted meal replacement shakes made by Flat Tummy Co with the caption: “These meal replacement shakes are so good and they’re helping me get my tummy back to flat.”
Prof Powis’ intervention comes after social media firm practices were thrown back into the spotlight over the death of teenager Molly Russell.
The 14-year-old’s family found she had viewed content on social media linked to anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide before taking her own life in November 2017.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said social media firms need to “purge” the internet of content that promotes self-harm and suicide.
Meanwhile, Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright has said the government is “considering very carefully” calls to subject companies to a legal duty of care.
And NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens has proposed the introduction of a mental health levy on social media firms.