Who: Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP)
When: 12 March 2015 to 11 May 2015
Law stated as at: 22 April 2015
The bodies who write the UK advertising codes enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) issued a public consultation on proposals to relax rules that effectively prevent lifestyle weight loss programmes from depicting or referring to obese people in advertising.
Currently, the CAP Code and BCAP Code allow weight loss programmes to advertise generally, but references to obesity (a body mass index of 30 or above) can only be made if the weight loss programme is one where participants are placed under the direct supervision of a health professional.
This has meant that while weight loss surgery clinics for instance can use before/after images in their UK advertising, lifestyle weight loss programmes have not been able to.
With public health policy increasingly recognising the value of weight loss programmes in tackling the growing obesity problem, CAP and BCAP propose to relax this position. Under the proposal, programmes that meet certain criteria would be able to make responsible references to obesity in their ads. The criteria proposed reflect requirements set out in the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) Guideline PH53 (“Obesity: Guidance on the prevention, identification, assessment and management of overweight and obesity in adults and children”).
Why this matters:
Obesity has increased steadily in the UK in recent years. Official data suggests that 64% of the population of England are overweight or obese and 1 in 4 adults in the UK is obese. It is well documented that obesity is linked with a number of serious health conditions, and its increasing prevalence has put significant strain on healthcare services. There have been a number of public policy initiatives in recent years to try and tackle it.
Given that the NICE guidelines envisage a substantial role for certain lifestyle weight loss programmes, and given also that a number of UK health authorities operate programmes to refer obese individuals to those programmes at taxpayers’ expense, it seems anomalous that those programmes cannot currently hold themselves out in ads as being suitable for obese individuals. Current rules also make it hard for those programmes to show a fair and representative depiction of member meetings in their ads – given than many attendees may typically be obese – and may foster a misleading impression that the only appropriate weight management options for those with a BMI of 30 or above would be surgery or other medical intervention.
The consultation ends on 11 May 2015.